Beach Week Bashes Balance Tradition, Parental Concerns

Beach Week Bashes Balance Tradition, Parental Concerns

If a facial expression could tell the story, the grin on West Springfield seniors Lauren Linder and Michael Austin at the mention of "Beach Week" was like the salivation of one of Ivan Pavlov's dogs.

"We got a house at Dewey Beach," Austin said. "It's supposed to be seven [in group], but it will probably end up around 10."

Linder calmed the fears that it was going to be one week of mayhem, though.

"One of the parents is coming down with us for a few days. Mine [parents] took convincing. They were more concerned with who I was going with," she said.

Beach Week is the given term for the week following high-school graduation, when grads blow off steam and step into adulthood. Ocean City, Md.; Dewey Beach, Del.; and Myrtle Beach, S.C., are a few of the more popular destinations, but among the graduating seniors, there is talk of Cancun, Mexico, as well as camping and cruises.

Linder did mention another parental concern: "No tattoos.

"There's two girls, me and my friend and the rest guys," she added.

Woodson senior Claire Alexander, 18, lives in Fairfax Station. Her older brother went to Cancun, but she's settling for a trip to Ocean City. She's staying in a condominium with three other graduates, which generated some parental concern.

"I'm 18, and I can do what I want," Claire said.

"They gave me a lecture," she added, but justified it: "It's like a celebration." She was proud of the fact that she paid for the trip on her own, as well.

Ocean City is prepared for that celebration, with its annual program "Play It Safe," aimed at curtailing alcohol abuse. According to Donna Abbott of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, it is a successful program.

"It actually runs for three weeks in June," she said. "Last year, over 6,000 graduates participated. We're offering activities that are alcohol-free."

A turning point in the method of enforcement at Ocean City occurred in 1995, said Barry Neeb, Ocean City community services coordinator.

"A kid was doing a handstand on the 12th-story balcony and fell off," Neeb said. "Since then, we've only had one person under 21 die in an accident associated with alcohol."

Although the fatalities are down, alcohol remains a factor.

"We make a lot of arrests," Neeb said. "They do have to appear in court."

PHILLIP SEALE graduated from Lake Braddock in 2001 and remembers his Beach Week at Myrtle Beach. It was a celebration with all the makings of a typical B-movie.

"We pretty much just turned 18," Seale said. "I still remember it. People sleeping where they fell down. Certain people got arrested."

Convincing his parents was one part of it.

"I kind of stretched the truth a bit," Seale said.

Lauren and Michael didn't have to "stretch the truth."

"Our parents know we don't drink, so that's all right," Austin said. "I think we're pretty much going to do whatever, basically just a hang-out type of thing."

It's the "whatever" that some parents are worried about, though. Lauren's mother, Cindy Linder, is looking forward to meeting with other parents in that group, which they have scheduled before graduation. She knows all the guys in the group, as well.

"So we can make sure we iron out the rules," Cindy Linder said, but the tattoo rule was already in place.

"I've been telling her that ever since she turned 18," she said.

Courtney Uram, Devin McKenzie, Katie Bell and Meghan Thompson are West Springfield seniors with a house reserved in Myrtle Beach. One of the parents reserved the house with a credit card, and they all paid her. Courtney's parents weren't too wild about the idea early on.

"I talked them into it early," she said. "I had to make sure the house was all girls."

Courtney pointed out that a group of West Springfield graduates picked out one particular street. "The whole street is designated. They're all reserved to West Springfield," she said.

Meghan had the talk with her parents, also.

"My parents trust me," she said. "I got a trust lecture."

One of Devin's teachers makes it an annual custom to talk about the legalities involved with Beach Week.

"Mr. Mac, our government teacher, he's going to have a talk with us," she said.

Mr. "Mac," aka John McMenamin, a senior government teacher at West Springfield, does touch on the legalities of similar situations connected with Beach Week every year. Recently, he talked about the legal difference between a condominium and a hotel room, and specifically the police coming in uninvited after one of his past students was faced with a similar situation.

"I do my best to give them a realistic look at how it's going to be," McMenamin said. "They're out of school now. Legally, they're adults."

Whether his advice on Beach Week makes any difference in students’ decisions is not certain. McMenamin can just give loose recommendations.

"Some of them don't go. I say, 'Good move.' All I can hope is when they're in a situation and they can think twice, they will," he said.

REBECCA DECKER has two sons that graduated from Robinson Secondary. They all sat down and had a talk, ending with a family vacation compromise in the end.

"I didn't allow them to go," Decker said. "We were very opposed to it. It wasn't a school-sponsored activity. I didn't feel at 17 or 18 it was appropriate. Beach Week is problems waiting to happen."

Brenda Linthicum had two sons at Robinson, also. Her oldest son went to Virginia Beach, but only when a parent went along as well. A neighbor of hers wasn't as lucky.

"A neighbor, their kid went and got arrested," Linthicum said. "I have friends who have let their kid go, and they had no problems."

Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson Mary Shaw made it clear that Beach Week is not a school function.

"This is something that the kids do independent of school," she said.

Linder emphasized that there will be a parent in Dewey in the first-floor apartment. The graduates seem to think that's only for the first two days, but Linder has other plans.

"This Beach Week trip is a supervised trip, with the parents staying in the lower condo," she said.

Diane Smith has a daughter who is a sophomore at West Springfield High School. Even at that age, there's been talk about a beach trip after school lets out.

"She wanted to go to Myrtle Beach with one group of friends, but 'You can't go if I can't go,' and I couldn't go. In the winter there's a ski trip that has a big reputation," she said. Smith didn't go into details on the "reputation" part, but her implication was not positive.

"I don't think it's appropriate for kids to go down there unsupervised," she said.

Not everyone goes to the beach, though. For some, it's a monetary thing; others have more important things to do. West Springfield senior Sandon Porter heard about it but is opting to spend some time with his family.

"People talking about it at school, they've been planning it for a long time," Sandon said. "I'm just going on vacation with my family."

Lee senior JB Matmanivong's older brother went, but he's not.

"I heard about it, but I'm not going," he said. "No money."