Philly School Turns to the Troops After Half are Ineligible for Prom

Hundreds of Philadelphia high schoolers whose class-cutting put their prom plans in jeopardy have gotten the chance to reclaim their big night — with care packages for United States troops in Afghanistan.

South Philadelphia High School officials informed their nearly 500 juniors and seniors last month that half of them were ineligible to attend prom because they had cut class too many times, in a follow-up to a September assembly outlining who would be eligible for prom.

Students who had cut class more than 20 times lost their prom privilege, they said. The "cuts" list was posted so everyone could publicly see who was affected, and the most serious class-cutter had 420 cuts.

"They thought we weren't serious," school counselor Pierre LaRocco said. "Men and women overseas are fighting for your freedom, and you're using that freedom to walk around the hallways."

Adara Jones, 17, hadn't realized she had 23 "cuts." She and her friends were frantic when they learned they wouldn't be able to attend prom.

LaRocco and principal Otis Hackney III wanted to make prom possible while also making sure students had earned the opportunity to attend, so they came up with a way for students to earn back their prom rights: They brought in the troops.

Well, not exactly.

Hackney decided what the students needed was to do something selfless for others, and the school initiated its own service project to support U.S. troops.

Students barred from attending the prom can create a care package for U.S. troops — specifically, for South Philadelphia High's 2012 graduate John Russino's unit serving in Afghanistan — to earn back their prom privileges.

"This is a great cause to help students find their way and show support to our fellow soldiers overseas," said Russino.

For every 20 times a student cut class, a student must submit a care package and a personal letter to a service man or woman to earn back their prom. So if a student has 101 cuts, she must submit five care packages.

"I think it's a good opportunity. It not only gives students a chance to get their 'cuts' off but also gives back to the soldiers," student Adara Jones said.

Each prom-to-troops care package contains beef jerky, nuts, sunflower seeds, granola bars, Crystal Light singles and lip balm. Its estimated value is about $25.

"These gift boxes will lift the morale of the troops. Soldiers are serving overseas and risking their lives. Free education, not taking full advantage of it," said ROTC teacher Timothy Mack. "This is a great way to help soldiers and the students."

Students have until May 9 to create a package. Two days before the due date, the school received 22 packages.

Councilman Jim Kenney heard about the project and connected the school with the Liberty USO, which has come forward to cover the cost of shipping the boxes.

The prom takes place June 6 at the Double Tree Hilton on Broad Street. With 250 students ineligible for prom, the school expects hundreds of care packages to come in to support the women and men serving abroad.

Contact Sarah Glover at 610-668-5580, or follow @skyphoto on Twitter.

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