Policymakers seek to eliminate summer break for Michigan students

The traditional three-month summer for Michigan schools may be nearing it’s end, as the state legislature and the governor want to give schools the ability to go to what they call a balanced schedule or what many people call year-round school.

Gov. Rick Snyder and many policymakers say such a change could help eventually lead to more college graduates. Principal Kit Moran has read such studies and said the research bears them out.

“Studies have shown, that students have a starting point at the beginning of each school year to which they steadily improve as the year goes on,” Principal Kit Moran said. “However during the 11 or 12 week summer, kids lose some of that brain power, since they aren’t reading or doing math problems.”

The year-round schools schedule would have the same number of school days as a traditional school year, however it would be stretched out across a 12-month period rather than the normal nine months.

“Schools that have tested going year round had a system of nine weeks on then three weeks off, so after each quarter, you would have essentially another Christmas break,” Moran said.

While there has also been talk of increasing the number of days Michigan students have to attend school, this discussion hasn’t really gone anywhere, mainly because of the money issue, according to Moran.

“There is always someone in Lansing that says kids need to go to school longer,” Moran said. “Gov. Engler, a few years back, his goal was to get the number of school days up to 210, instead of the 175 we have now. The only problem is, how are you going to fund seven more weeks of school, because that’s seven more weeks of buses and seven more weeks of paying teachers?”

And money isn’t the only problem with this plan according to Moran.

“If I were to say, ‘Dexter is going to change to a year-round system. We’re going to be on nine weeks and off three, well, that’s good for student achievement, but what do we do about athletics,” he said. “Would that affect our testing in March? There are so many things that we structure around our school year, that it makes it difficult to make such a big change.”

Although year-round schooling or a balanced schedule may be gaining momentum in the state legislature, Moran doesn’t see this change coming to Dexter anytime soon.

“I can tell you this,” he said. “No student in the Dexter High School has to worry about going to school year round.”

You smell that?

A large chemical filtration system beneath the science classrooms, unknown to current administrators until January, has become clogged by an unknown substance.  The obstruction was first detected because of an odor produced by the chemical backup.

“I’m not quite sure why somebody didn’t know that,” Principal Kit Moran said.  “It’s amazing to me that nobody ever mentioned that.”

The tanks were installed 12 years ago during construction of the high school when Moran wasn’t principal.

The mechanism is made up of two large tanks connected by a tube.  Waste flows from the science room sinks into the first tank where its acidity is neutralized and any precipitates fall to the bottom and are pumped out.

The liquid is then pumped to the next tank through the tube where it is further neutralized.  The clog occurred in this tubing between the tanks.

Science teacher Beau Kimmey said the filtration system is mainly in place to neutralize acids disposed of in the science room sinks, “so you’re not dumping straight acid down into the sewage system.”

The obstruction hasn’t completely stopped drainage from the science rooms, but it has slowed the process dramatically.

He said, “The connection between the two tanks became partially clogged.  It still works, it’s just really slow.  It doesn’t flow as well as it should.”

Kimmey said the biggest trouble comes when multiple classrooms perform labs on the same day and the tanks get backed up.  This is when the tanks begin to smell.

No one is sure exactly what is causing the blockage, but Kimmey said it may be some sort of limestone formed by the water.

“Other than that,” he said, “who knows what kids dump down the sinks.”

He added that he believes the quality of the equipment may be to blame for the issue, because the school may have gone for the cheaper option.

“We’re kind of locked in by what taxpayers are willing to pay,” Kimmey said,  “and when you take the lowest bidder, you don’t always get the highest quality.”

Moran, however, strongly disagreed with Kimmey on that issue.

Moran said that given the fact that the system has been underground for 12 years without receiving any maintenance, it is surprising there haven’t been more problems.

“Is it one of those things that needs to be cleaned every once in a while,” he said, “or is it a quality issue? After a while you gotta put a new roof on your house. I would say, generally speaking, the school’s in good shape.  A lot of people think it’s a brand new building.”

The plan to fix the tanks is to investigate the problem and clean them out during spring break when students are gone.  Moran did add, however, that there are many possibilities for things to go wrong in the process.

He said, “Perfect world, they make it to spring break, and they fix it over spring break, and all is good.  However, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was harder to fix than expected.  This is like the car repair that you’ve never done before.”

Moran also said that there is a chance things get worse before spring break, and he said he told the science teachers, “To the best extent possible, be careful what you’re putting down there.  Every gallon that doesn’t go down there just keeps us in that much better shape.”

Still why did no one know about this container to begin with?  Moran said part of the issue may have been the revolving door of principals before he arrived–six principals in six years at one point–and that many fragments of information may have been lost in transition.

After the obstruction has been cleared, Moran said cleaning it out will be added to the annual checkups by the maintenance staff over the summer so this problem doesn’t occur again.

“At least we’ll know it’s there,” he said.

Still, with such a significant element to the proper function of our building going unnoticed for over a decade, one has to wonder what else might be lurking beneath our school.

International Baccalaureate program gives students a tougher challenge than previously imagined

As the class of 2014 approaches graduation, 16 seniors are left wondering if they will graduate with more than a high school diploma. These International Baccalaureate diploma candidates who are on track for an IB diploma have to wait until the end of July to find out if they qualified for the IB diploma.

Students striving for the full IB diploma have to write an extended essay, complete a Theory of Knowledge class which includes a TOK presentation and essay and complete a Creativity Action Service project on top of completing all their coursework requirements. Each IB class also requires an internal assessment and external assessment. The external assessment won’t take place until May, leaving those students waiting until the end of July for their results.

According to IB Coordinator Kimberley Lund this late deadline is not a big deal in the United States in terms of college admissions.

“Colleges make decisions based on the student’s good standing and predicted grades,” she said. “It is unheard of to have a students acceptance taken away because they did not receive the IB diploma.”

However this isn’t as uncommon in Europe.

“Getting the IB diploma would be a bigger deal if I was looking to go to college overseas” senior Tristin Rojeck said.  Rojeck is one of those 16 students waiting to find out if he will receive an IB diploma.

“I might be getting an IB diploma,” he said.  “But at this point I’m just looking to do well enough in math and English and maybe history to get college credit.”

Rojeck already got his acceptance letter to Michigan State, and it won’t be taken away if he fails to receive an IB diploma.

Although a student’s acceptance may not be at risk over the IB diploma other factors are.

“Not getting the IB diploma can affect how much money colleges offer in scholarships” Lund said.

While all the colleges Rojeck was looking into offered scholarships independent from the IB diploma, some schools, Michigan Technological University for example, offer scholarships specifically to IB diploma recipients.

According to both Rojeck and Lund even more overseas colleges make a bigger deal over the IB diploma.

“It really is a somewhat prestigious thing to do,” Rojeck said.  “It’s a step above a high school diploma because it requires more work in regards to the extended essay and CSA.”

And this extra work is well worth it for Rojeck who said that the IB program has helped him prepare for college and given him a strong work ethic that will lead him to be successful in life regardless if he ends up with or without an IB diploma.

“Theres no real way to know right now if all my hard work was worth it,” Rojeck said.  “I’m happy that I stuck with the program and I’ll let you know in a year.”

Ocean Bowl squad heads to national tournament in Seattle

The dull hum of the buzzers drones as 10 high school students conjure oceanic knowledge accumulated after hours of poring over books, maps, graphs, bills, virtually anything ocean related.

This is Ocean Bowl.

Or at least it is for the DHS National Ocean Science Bowl team, which is gearing up for the national competition in Seattle, Wash. after leveling Greenhills, the defending national champions, 83-21 in the regional final on Saturday, Feb. 1 at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment building.

Senior Captain Graham Northrup along with juniors Noah Knoerl-Morrill, Alex Smearage and sophomores Will Wendorf and Ryan McGinnis nabbed Dexter’s ninth regional victory in 15 years of competition.

Adviser and science teacher  Cheryl Wells said she felt satisfied with the victory but denied any personal vendetta against Greenhills.

“No, I don’t know who told you that,” she said. “I actually have known this coach for many years, and he’s a great guy.”

But she did say she could see how other teams might misinterpret her and her team’s determination at regionals as hostility.

“What I do is when we get to regionals, my team stays focused, we’re not real friendly and we really get into that competitive mindset,” she said.

Part of Dexter’s prolonged success comes from Wells’ choice to remain vague about her success when other teams ask.

“They’ll ask me things like, ‘How does your team does so well every year?’  And I’ll say things like, ‘Oh I feed them every day after school.’”

But all jokes aside, Wells and her team train hard every year to maintain their reputation as one of the top ocean bowl teams in the region.

Wells went on, “But I don’t say, ‘Oh, well you’ve got to start practicing months in advance, and on snow days you have to go to Foggy Bottom and study, like we do.  And you have to have a book cart full of books on a wide range of subjects, and you have to do your homework at night.  And you have to be well-read.  These kids read everything–the geology, geography, the history, the marine law, the chemistry, the physics, the biology, and they’ve got to know all of it.”

Dexter has participated in the National Ocean Science Bowl under Wells’ supervision since the organization started in 1998, and its team won regionals that first year and has been to eight national competitions.

Attending the first competition sounded an alarm for Wells.

“It alerted me to the fact that we don’t live on a beach, or see a tide every day.  As a Great Lakes state, we didn’t really have the familiarity with the ocean as a lot of the coastal teams did,” she said.

To compensate, Wells said she makes sure the team is prepared for success.

According to Wendorf, “She usually reads questions and then has presentations that she’ll read off to us.  And she’ll organize the team and tell us what to read, stuff like that.”

Dexter’s team remains busy with preparing nationals.

“We’re going to keep working and studying hard on a broad range of topics,” Wells said.  “Nautical knots, reading nautical flags, nautical bell time, nautical talk, parts of a ship. It’s a wide range.”

The plethora of topics covered enticed sophomore Ryan McGinnis to join the team.  He says that participation in ocean bowl as a sophomore will have long term benefits.

“There’s a lot of information we cover that I wouldn’t come across anywhere else,” he said. “And also it’s great from a college perspective, because I want to go into oceanography. It’s invaluable because we’re going to nationals, and there will be college staff scouting out potential recruits, so it’s a really great college and beyond opportunity.”

Though the team is excited to compete at the national competition, they have already accomplished their season’s objective, according to Northrup.

“This year the goal was to win regionals,” he said.  “Anything more is just icing on the cake.”

Bus driver, lunchroom staff member self-publishes books through Amazon

Though he is known to most of his co-workers and friends as Daniel Joseph Slabaugh (Joe for short), this food and nutrition worker and bus driver has an alter ego, Boris Copper, who has written three books, all self-published through Amazon.

Slabaugh started writing in 2008 and finished his two-part series, “Jacobs Bondage” and “Jacobs Exile,” in 2009.  He sent his manuscripts to several publishers and although, according to Slabaugh, they showed interest, none took the books on.

“I’m not very into marketing,” Slabaugh said.  “So I decided to not pursue it any further.”

Instead, Slabaugh turned to self-publishing. Amazon advertises its independent publishing as allowing authors to own the copyrights to their works, publish easily and distribute globally.

Through this service Slabaugh was able to print both “Jacobs Bondage” and “Jacobs Exile.”  Both books take place in 1763 and follow the story of a young Jewish boy who is kidnapped, brought to Philadelphia, and sold into indentured servitude.  After 21 years he manages to escape and make a life for himself and find love.

Slabaugh said he doesn’t know how many copies of “Jacobs Bondage” and “Jacobs Exile” have been sold and doesn’t really care.

“For me it was never about selling books,” he said.  “I just wanted to see them in print.”

One of Slabaugh’s co workers, para-professional Carol Bogdanski, read Slabaugh’s books and really liked them.

“I normally don’t read those types of books (historical fiction). I’m more into romance books,” she said.  “But I really liked them and thought they were very exciting.”

Bogdanski, knowing Slaubaugh from work as what she described as just the “average Joe,” was pleasantly surprised to find out he successfully published three books.

Slaubaugh has thus since become an inspiration for Bogdanski, shedding his “average Joe” title to prove he was more than meets the eye.

“I never thought a regular person like me or Joe could write a book,” Bogdanski said.  “And now knowing that Joe has, made me realize so could I if I wanted too.”

Sharrar promoted to new position

When new Superintendent Chris Timmis was hired on June 12, he said he saw changes right away that he wanted to make in the district administrative structure.

And with an announcement on Dec. 3 that Assistant Principal Mollie Sharrar would be accepting a new position as the Executive Director of Instruction and Strategic Initiatives, Timmis started the first of these changes.

After working as an assistant principal split between the high school and Mill Creek middle school from 2006 to 2007, Sharrar became the principal at Creekside Intermediate school. She worked there full time until 2010, at which time she returned to the high school to once again be an assistant principal.

Throughout her time at the high school, Sharrar has seen her fair share of changes, one of them being the implementation of the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Timmis said he noticed a conflict in the district between supporters of an Advanced Placement curriculum and those who supported the International Baccalaureate curriculum. But in his view, there really shouldn’t be a conflict.

“The way I see it, they’re all smart kids,” Timmis said. “There isn’t a program that works for all students because everyone learns differently, so why not figure out a way to make them both work.”

Such debate between supporters of AP and IB was just one of the factors that has lead Timmis to begin putting together a district instructional support team that he wanted Sharrar to lead.

“There’s nothing more important that we do than teach,” Timmis said. “And right now, we don’t have anyone in charge of that. The whole concept is to have a team that will lead what we do in terms of teaching. There’ll be a team to oversee and manage new initiatives to make sure we get them done.”

Sharrar was on a short list of people Timmis said he considered for the position. He said he met with her to discuss some of the details and sent her a proposal. After he worked with Sharrar to tweak the proposal a bit, he appointed her to the position.

“I looked for strong leaders in key roles,” Timmis said. “I had no need to look outside the district, since we already had her here. Now, I’m most looking forward to putting this instructional support team model into place.”

What most often ends up happening in a school district is that a principal doesn’t necessarily have control of making the changes they want to make happen, happen, Timmis said. His plan is to set up a team so Dexter has the people in place to implement new curriculum, changes and ideas, and implement them well.

But as Sharrar’s influence in the district expands, it means changes for the high school’s administration.

Sharrar, who was in charge of testing at the high school, was part of a three-person team that also included Principal Kit Moran and the other assistant principal, Ken Koenig. And Moran said he’s going to miss Sharrar immensely.

“I have the best team of people on the planet,” Moran said. “We all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses really well. We all kind of do our own thing, so it’s really the three of us in charge, collaborating.”

Moran also said he enjoys working with Sharrar, and has worked with her for five years, so filling her shoes would be no easy task.

“Our new job is to find someone with the skills (Sharrar) has,” Moran said. “Someone who will fit into the team just as she did.”

And find someone they did.

On Jan. 20, the board of education approved former high school teacher consultant Karen Walls as the new assistant principal.

Walls was among 160 applicants for the position and was called back for two rounds of interviews.

“We’re all looking forward to working with her,” Moran said. “Her energy and enthusiasm is fantastic. And so is her knowledge of special education students.”

Although she won’t be moving very far within the building, Walls is just as excited about the new position.

“What was so enticing about this is that as an administrator, I will still stay connected with kids,” Walls said. “I’m not far removed from any of the staff, and I’m looking forward to being able to have a really positive influence. I’m really so thankful to transition with Sharrar, but I know I have big shoes to fill.”

New bill in the House of Representatives seeks to change teacher evaluation guidelines

House bills 5223 and 5224, which aim to change the standards by which teachers are evaluated, were read in in the House of Representatives on Jan. 22.  These could change goals for teachers beginning as early as next year, but there is still much dispute about whether these changes will be for the best.

These bills would set up a new system for teacher and administrator evaluation in Michigan.  Under the proposed legislation, student growth will comprise at least 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation for the first three years and would increase to at least 50 percent beginning in 2017.  The rest of the evaluation will be based on teacher practice, namely the results of observations.

Additionally, the bills will require schools to set up a mentor system in which teachers with high evaluations are partnered with teachers who are deemed less effective.  While some schools already use a mentor system, the bills propose making it a requirement.

Dexter Education Association President Joseph Romeo, a computer teacher at Dexter High School, said he supports this aspect of the bill.

“Mentors are absolutely critical,” he said.

While the intent of the bill is to provide a concrete measurement for how effective individual teachers are in communicating the material, the fear among many educators is that the emphasis on student growth will shift focus from benefiting the students to simply producing test scores and grades.

“All of our jobs are to prepare (students) for college,” Principal William Moran said.  “I’m disappointed that we’re going to create a situation where teachers aren’t trying to do the best teaching. I want my teachers to focus on teaching the kids that show up every day to the best of their ability.”

Part of the problem, Romeo said, is that all students do not come from similar situations outside of school.  The differences in students’ ability to focus on education outside of school will be reflected in their test scores and, in the new system, in their teachers’ evaluations.

“I would say to understand whether schools are adequately doing their job, we must address (other) issues,” Romeo said. “You would expect … students from higher socioeconomic communities to outperform students from lower socioeconomic communities.”

In order to ease such fears, legislators went to the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness for recommendations on which to base their bill.  This way, educators would be involved in forming the education bills.  Much of the bills are based on these suggestions, but more weight was given to student growth in the bills than was advised by council.

“The (MCEE) recommendation was excellent,” Moran said, despite his qualms about the bills themselves.

According to Moran, the effects of the bills changes in teacher evaluations would primarily be seen when deciding which teachers will be laid off in times of financial strain.  Therefore, the changes would be less evident in districts such as Dexter, where mass layoffs have not yet been a problem.

As these bills are only the most recent in a string of proposed changes to the Michigan educational system, teachers cannot yet be sure what changes will come in the near future.  Moran is not confident, however, that the legal system will produce an ideal system for teachers and students.

He said, “I wish I was more optimistic.”

Lockdown procedure gets overhaul

During the summer of 2013, Principal Kit Moran and School Liaison Deputy Jeremy Hilobuk decided to implement ALICE lockdown training for the Dexter Community School District in an effort to enforce safer procedures if an intruder were to enter the building.

ALICE, an acronym standing for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate is a critical incident-response training company that specializes in active shooter and violent intruder response strategies. It is more of an active-response training as opposed to what Moran described as the passive-response training that was used previously.

With the new procedures, students and teachers will be instructed differently. For example, if an intruder were to enter near the office door, and students were in the art room on the bottom floor of the opposite side of the building, they would exit the building and get to the next-safest destination.

As for teachers, the training is designed to make them more aware of how to handle a life or death situation if it were happening, as quickly as possible. They’re scheduled to have a first meeting about the new training on Jan. 23.

“Teachers will learn defense tactics like latching the door, blocking the entrance with desks, different kinds of barricades, and essentially anything they can do to slow down the intruder,” Moran said. “Many of these instances only occur in 5-10 minutes, so finding anything to slow an intruder down will save lives. There is a body count for every minute or two it takes for the police to get here. If you can get out of the building, get out of the building.”

It was a training session in August that made it apparent to Moran and Hilobuk that ALICE would be the new lockdown method for the district.

“They reenacted Columbine (the school shooting incident in Colorado in 1999 where 16 people including the two student-gunmen died), and it was scary to say the least,” Moran said. “It was frustrating to watch because there were so many instances where kids lost their lives because they were following an illogical lockdown method, and we don’t want that to happen here.”

However, training didn’t stop there. Moran underwent multiple training sessions to become more accustomed to the ALICE procedures.

“Training entails raise level of awareness,” Moran said. “Showing what ALICE looks like,  going through each letter of ALICE and seeing how we can do that here, with scenarios, and practicing those scenarios in the location where you hide.”

But that’s the milder side of training. It becomes more realistic when the sheriff’s department gets involved.

“Hilobuk comes in with a cap gun and it gets frightening,” Moran said.  “They show us what we used to do, when we hid in a corner and the guy could come in and shoot us.  Then we practiced ALICE, finding ways to slow down the intruder and evacuate as many people as we can to safety.  It’s all very eye opening.”

Moran said he expects to have the school participate in an ALICE lockdown drill during lunch.

“It’s a very unorthodox procedure because students must act on their own judgement and teachers won’t have as much structure and organization over their students,” Moran said.

A large issue lies in the elementary school and how young children will handle a situation like this. Good judgment and critical thinking skills, attributes that are needed for ALICE to be executed successfully, may not be fully developed yet for these children.

“The main thing we want to do is give people options,” said Hilobuk. “One advantage when it comes to the elementary schools is since they’re so close together, if one thing happens at one school, they can take them to the other school.”

Not only can ALICE be applied to the classroom, but also in everyday life.

“It’s good life skills,” Hilobuk said, “you can be aware in other environments too.” It is evident that ALICE is a more effective lockdown method, and while hopefully it is a procedure we will never have to use, we will all be capable of performing it if need be.  As Moran said “ALICE is us fighting back.”


Common App creates common problems

The fourth version of the Common Application, often referred to as the Common App, was released on Aug. 1, and since then, at least 42 colleges and universities pushed back their early deadlines due to system malfunctions.

Complete application submission became a problem under this year’s version of the Common App, a nonprofit college admission application company that allows students to create one master application that will be submitted to its member colleges for consideration.

Documents wouldn’t load, PDFs wouldn’t attach, students’ entire accounts froze and complete applications wouldn’t submit.

For senior Megan Lynch, many of these issues added extra stress to her application process.

“My University of Michigan application didn’t go through,” Lynch said. “They emailed me saying they couldn’t find my transcripts or my test scores, so I didn’t make early action.”

Senior Sabrina Meo had similar problems in her application process. She wasn’t able to submit her actual application, and sometimes she wasn’t even able to log into the Common App. website.

“I would wake up at 4 a.m. to submit and work on my application,” Meo said. “There were less people on the server, so things didn’t run as slow.”

Since 517 different colleges and universities use the Common App in some form, and 175 of those schools use the Common App exclusively, students around the country, including Meo, were starting to worry.

“The problems I had didn’t affect my deadlines,” Meo said. “Just my stress level.”

According to Scott Anderson, the Senior Director for Policy at the Common Application, the newest version of the Common App was intended to be a more robust system that would effectively guide applicants and schools through the complex application process. But he recognizes this year’s version of the Common App was far from perfect and said he appreciates the way most people reacted to the problems they encountered.

“Since the Aug. 1 launch of the 2013-14 Common Application, nearly 480,000 applicants have used the system to submit college applications,” Anderson said. “We are grateful for the patience exhibited by these applicants, their parents, counselors, and teachers as we worked to support them through the technical challenges they may have faced in the application process.”

Problems with the Common App were not only encountered by students, but by counselors and teachers too. In fact, for counselor Gerry Holmes, the Common App upgrade felt more like a downgrade.

“None of (the Common App) was working,” Holmes said. “There were plenty of upset people with important deadlines to meet. Teachers were emailing me left and right about it. It was just chaos.”

Holmes said she dealt with plenty of students as they faced problems loading documents, submitting documents and viewing recommender-submitted documents.

“The college application process is stressful enough as it is,” Holmes said. “Students don’t need anything added to that.”

English teacher and yearbook adviser Barry Mergler was one of the many teachers who had problems submitting a recommendation. He said a recommendation letter that appeared to be complete and submitted wasn’t received by the University. His problems were eventually solved when he switched browsers.

Mergler, who has used the Common App for years, said he has never had problems before this year.

“Usually things are easy, very straightforward,” Mergler said. “This year, things were rather rocky.”

Former English teacher, Jo Muszkiewicz had problems that surpassed submission difficulties, though. After Muszkiewicz set up her account under the new version of the system and submitted recommendations for several students, she said she could not even log into the site.

“At first I thought it was because I was in Europe when I was trying to submit the recommendations,” Muszkiewicz said. “But when I got home, I still had problems. There were times when I was able to access the site and times when I simply could not sign in.”

So Muszkiewicz called the Common App help desk, and they were able to fix the problem quickly. After that, though, she had more trouble getting help.

Finally, the help desk suggested that Muszkiewicz switch browsers, just as Mergler had.

“Rollouts of new systems always seem to have bugs that need to be ironed out,” Muszkiewicz said. “Sometimes the only way to find the problems is to have people use the system.”

That being said, the Common App still feels responsible for the complications users have, and Anderson said they are working to make sure the problems users encountered this year don’t happen again.

“We want to reinforce the message that we are sorry for all of the frustrations experienced during the rollout of the new system,” Anderson said. “We are fully committed to guiding each applicant and recommender to a successful submission.”

Prom moves to the Big House

What’s happening?

For about 25 years on the Friday before Prom, just under 100 prom committee volunteers flooded the halls after school, glue guns in their hands and determination in their eyes.

They had one mission: transform the whitewashed walls and tiled floors of Dexter High School into something unrecognizable, something fit to host a prom for hundreds of juniors and seniors.

And for almost a quarter of a century, they’ve succeeded with the extreme makeover. In just over 24 hours, they’ve created enchanted forests, Mardi Gras festivals and schools of witchcraft and wizardry.

But this spring, the prom committee won’t need to wield their staple guns and extension cords. Instead, breaking with tradition, the junior-senior prom will be held at University of Michigan’s football stadium a.k.a. “The Big House.”

How did it get this way?

According to student council adviser and high school teacher Al Snider, there were two major factors that led to the venue change: liability and a declining number of volunteers.

“It became harder and harder for the prom committee to make it as big as they wanted,” he said.  “I know people are busy, and the committee was having a tough time getting people to help.”

In fact, at one point a few years ago, some students were given the responsibility of a couple halls due to a lack of parent volunteers.

According to Paula Staebler, chair of the prom committee, parents are busy and oftentimes over committed, which is probably the main reason the numbers of volunteers have dwindled over the years.

“Because of the extent of time, energy, and creativity that is needed, many parents just cannot commit to such an undertaking,” Staebler said.  “A committee chair spends at least three months planning and executing their ideas, and the weekend of prom they literally spend the entire weekend at DHS.”

So, as Staebler put it, the new location will make this year’s prom “kinder and gentler for the volunteers.”

The number of volunteers was shrinking, and, although the prom committee was never actually cited by the fire marshall, the concern about liability was growing.  Sprinkler heads, fire alarms and fire extinguishers at the high school were covered up by decorations and creating a fire hazard.

And just last year there was a slight snafu in the “Nearlyweds” game room, where one of the powerstrips became overheated and started smoking.

“That really clued us and the administration in that we needed to look elsewhere because of the liability issues,” Snider said.

And so began the hunt for a new venue.  Other locations on the U of M campus such as the League and the Union, as well as Eastern Michigan and Washtenaw Community College’s new venues were all in the running before the final decision was made. Staebler said she was brainstorming with her son, junior Tristin Staebler, and one of her son’s friends, junior Chris Ryan, when having the prom at Michigan Stadium came up.

“I quickly, as we were sitting there talking, emailed the contact at the Jack Roth Stadium club,” Staebler said.  “And the idea was born.”

How is it playing out?

Despite the drastic change in venue, many of the aspects that made up former proms will still be present this spring.

For example, neither Snider nor Staebler predict that the price of $35 a ticket will change much.

According to Snider, the price has been the same for about 10 years, a factor that will be taken into consideration when deciding this year’s ticket cost.

“If it did increase, it would not increase more than $5 per ticket,” Staebler said.  “Prom ticket prices have been the same for a number of years, so an increase would not be unreasonable.” Many of the games and activities that have made an annual appearance at former proms, will also make the trip to The Big House.

“We store the poker tables and the putt-putt in the building at Creekside,” Snider said.  “We just have to trek it a little bit farther, as opposed to around the corner.”

Staebler agreed that the prom parent volunteers will try to keep the games consistent, too, in order to maintain the integrity of past proms.

“We are hoping to keep some of the same old favorites available for the students, to keep the same feel as in years past, just in a new format,” she said.

The prom will also still be theme-based. This year’s theme, decided by an upperclassmen vote,  is “Under the Stars.” However, decorations will not hang from the walls and ceilings like they have in the past, due to the same liability issues, according to Snider.

As for venues in the years to come, Staebler wants to keep her options open, but she is also considering having prom at The Big House each year.

She said, “I would like to see how it goes and possibly keep it there.”