Saturday, March 13, 2010

How to Plan a Homeschool Prom

Hey, I know it is a hot topic and something you've been dying to know. haha!  So since I am in the thick of prom planning right now, I thought I'd share what's going on!

First, the background. There have been a couple of homeschool proms in this area over the years, mostly simple affairs held in a church hall or community center gym. My older daughter attended 2 different events during her high school years, and enjoyed having a reason to get all dressed up, go get her hair done, and have a special night out with friends. My boys weren't that interested - dressing up and dancing weren't high on their list of ways to have fun.   Well, almost a year ago, I was browsing through some homeschool websites and came across one for a big homeschool prom in Florida. On impulse,  I casually mentioned to my then-15-yr-old daughter that maybe we should plan a homeschool Prom for next year ( I am a support group leader and prone to taking on scarily big projects ). She got very excited about the idea and called a couple of her good friends, who also got very excited about the idea.  Me and my big mouth. Okay, so after deciding that we wanted to plan our own prom, we found out that there was one being held very soon in a town about 45 minutes away from here.  Amanda and her friends decided to go scout it out - they bought tickets, went shopping for dresses, and spent the afternoon of the dance at Emily's house, doing hair, putting on makeup, and getting dressed in their finery.  They had a lot of fun, and took some mental notes of the things they liked and didn't like.  Then we started planning in earnest for a date one year away.

The first thing we did was research homeschool proms online, scrutinizing websites for ideas and guidelines. Okay, there aren't a ton of these out there, but enough to get us started. The girls made a list of the things they wanted - a nice location, a catered meal, DJ and dancing, non-homeschooled guests allowed ... a fancy, formal, but fun affair.  Next we made a list of possible venues in the area, looking for sites that did wedding receptions and things like that.  

hint: planning a Prom is a lot like planning a wedding reception - except you get to sell tickets.

In May, we visited four different locations in Wake Forest, and fell in love with The Sutherland. It is a beautiful old estate dripping with Southern charm - brick walkways and patios, a walled garden, huge oak and magnolia trees.  Ashlee, the event planner at The Sutherland, has been working with us and sharing her event planning experience - which we desperately need.  Our committee is made up of 5 moms and 7 teenage girls, and only one of us has ever even hired a caterer before. The first scary thing was having to sign a contract and put down a deposit on the venue. Gulp. We knew we couldn't wait long because this place is a hot location for weddings and May is the start of wedding season, and we didn't want to lose the opportunity to have the Prom here.  One mom put up the deposit money - since we didn't have anything to start with. * Brave woman. *

We decided to call it the Carolina Capital Homeschool Prom. We are located just north of the capital city of Raleigh and The Sutherland is right off of Capital Blvd. We knew we would need to sell a good amount of tickets to afford the nice venue and things we wanted - hopefully the name would seem welcoming to homeschoolers from the entire area, and not just our support group or our town. 

Now that we had chosen a date and had the location pinned down, we got our little committe together and divided up some jobs - different people to research and make recommendations in certain areas. The jobs that needed to be handled were the following:
  • determine ticket price 
  • call DJs
  • research and call caterers
  • publicity
  • come up with Guidelines / Dress Code
  • work out the registration process
  • fundraisers
  • decorating
  • create website
  • open bank account
To come up with the ticket price, we set a goal for the number of tickets we thought we could sell for this event, based on the number of homeschool teens in the area and attendance at other events. Then we made a list of all the expenses we could think of:  venue, DJ, caterer, tent rental, event insurance, photographer, additional entertainer, printing/mailing costs, decorations...  We added up our expenses ( our best guesstimate) and divided by the number of tickets we hoped to sell, and voila - $65 per ticket.

One of the moms volunteered to create the website.  It is
As soon as that was up, we sent emails out to all the homeschoolers we knew, through our support group email loop and other local networks! We have continued to send out email updates , as well as create a Facebook page and hand out flyers to friends and acquaintances!  I drew up a poster and displayed it, along with a stack of flyers, at all of our homeschool basketball home games. We also put an ad in the state Homeschool newsletter and in the program of the Regional Homeschool Basketball Tournament ( it helps when you are in charge of making the program!)  If the mantra for real estate is "Location, Location, Location", then the mantra for event planning is "Publicize, Publicize, Publicize"!

hint: Shelley used a  free website hosting site that she thought would work but which has been giving her a lot of grief. Her words... next time, it would be worth paying someone to do it right. 

After looking at other Prom guidelines, Emily and Eve came up with a list of Guidelines for the Prom.  These guidelines include a dress code which we tried to make not TOO restrictive, but still requiring modesty and good taste - no revealing necklines, plunging backs, or transparent midriffs for ladies, with hemlines or slits to be no higher than 3" above the knee. Guys are required to wear a jacket, buttoned shirt, tie, and dress slacks, or a suit or tuxedo. No jeans. No T-shirts. No tennis shoes. Behavior guidelines include respecting the authority of chaperones, staying within the physical boundaries set for the event, wearing a wristband, and clean dancing. Attendees are expected to be mature and respectful, and of course, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and weapons are not allowed.

update: we amended our policy the 2nd year to allow medical devices such as inhalers and epipens. 

We decided to start taking registrations on January 15 for our May 7th event, and will continue through April 15.  To register, a student must print off a Prom Registration Form and Prom Guidelines Agreement. There is a form for guests as well. Every person attending the prom must mail that completed and signed form in with the payment for their ticket.  I opened a bank account and we were ready to go. 

hint:  next time we will offer an incentive for buying tickets during the first four weeks, rather than waiting until the very end of the registration period. Duh. Should have thought of that earlier. It is a little nerve-wracking to not have registration forms pouring in .. but we have heard so much positive feedback, both in person and on the web, that we are pretty sure we're in good shape. Still...

The Prom is open to all area homeschool students ( not just those in our support group) AND alumni ages 14 - 21. Each homeschool student or alumni may invite a non-homeschooled guest. 
Students do not need to come to Prom with a date;  lots of kids will be coming alone or with a group of friends!  This isn't just a "date night", but a celebration of friendship and homeschool community!  

One perk of being on the Prom Committee has been the opportunity to attend "tastings", events set up by caterers to lure new clients.  mmm... mmm.  Ashley and her girls did a lot of work, calling and emailing a long list of caterers to compare offerings and prices. Since we are novices at this whole event planning thing, it was also important to us to work with someone who was experienced and who made us feel confident that all the details would be covered. We discovered through this process that there is a whole "catering vocabulary" that it is important to know.

hint: price quotes sometimes include the extras like servers, chafing dishes, serving utensils, dinner plates ;silverware, beverage service... and sometimes they don't!

We have held 2 fundraisers - a Pampered Chef fundraiser, a low-effort choice which brought in $145.  And a Silent Auction - which we pulled together rather quickly and learned a good bit about what not to do next time -  that netted us another $300.  

We have booked our DJ - Brian Pate of Brian Pate Entertainment. He will be setting up a way for students to submit song requests prior to the Prom. He also promised that he only plays clean music - something we feel strongly about as parents/planners. Brian's DJ services include a light show and also video screens, which we can use to show music videos, candid photos being taken by the Prom Photographer ( using the camera memory card ), or whatever we want!    We also would LIKE to book a professional magician who will mingle with the students and perform up-close magic and illusions, as additional entertainment. We aren't sure about the money, so we are waiting on that... but I think it would be awesome and really add another element of class and fun.  This isn't a birthday party magician, but a local entertainer with lots of experience performing all over the country for teens and college-age kids.  

Today we went to the Classic Party Rental store and talked with Jenna, picking out table linens and talking about the event tent that we will need to rent ( since the Prom will be outdoors ).  Our theme is "A Starry Night", inspired by the Vincent Van Gogh painting. We were looking at plain navy blue or periwinkle tablecloths and talking about maybe adding a sheer topper or colored runner when someone saw these shiny, silky tablecloths hanging on the wall.  There was a gorgeous dark blue cloth- I think it was called "deep blue crush" - that shimmered and flowed and and looked like a dark night sky. PERFECT.  They cost $4 more each than what is included in the venue "package", so we will need to pay for the difference. But they are so elegant and go so well with the theme - we just have to do it. We chose periwinkle cloths for the food tables, to pick up another of the blues in the painting.  And black napkins.  Heather has an idea for centerpieces that would include a mirror square, on which would sit a glass fishbowl filled with yellow or blue lights and metallic confetti and water - it would be very "glowy" and "shiny" and "reflect-y"... ( and apparently they found some lights that can be submerged in water!)  The tent will have white lights outlining the edges and white fabric draping the poles. The girls are going to look for some  navy blue ribbon or fabric to tie in bows around the white fabric on the poles as well, and maybe some metallic star garlands.... Can't wait to see it all set up!

We have just started soliciting door prizes from individuals and businesses, so we have some fun items to give away to Prom attendees.

In addition to being a fantastic, memorable night for our teens, we decided to also make our Prom a Benefit to help those in need.  Several families we know, including one of the girls on our Prom Committee, are heavily involved in orphan care ministry, especially in Africa. So we will be contributing a portion of our proceeds to the Kolfe Orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We'll also be showing a slideshow and collecting donations the night of the Prom.

Stay tuned for more Prom News as we count down the weeks ....


Becky said...

Getting excited about the prom Beth! What a lot of work has gone into the planning and preparation and soon the execution. If you did not see on facebook, count us in for some door prizes!

GrammaJelly said...

PHEW! ! ! ! What fun! !

Amanda Aucoin said...

Sounds so fun! I hope ya'll have a great turnout.

Alison Agnew said...

I know this is an older post, but we are just starting to think about planning a local hs prom for next year, so I am learning a lot from your experience. Thanks!


Jasmine said...

Do you have a sample agenda for the evening that you would be willing to share?