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

- From NBC Philadelphia

The high school prom experience is a rite of passage for American teens. The dance, the corsage and the limos carrying gussied up teens in fancy dresses and tuxedos are moments best captured on social media.

The annual spring tradition is in jeopardy for hundreds of students at South Philadelphia High School. Last month, counselor Pierre LaRocco and principal Otis Hackney III informed the nearly 500 junior and senior students that half of them were not eligible for prom this year because they cut class too many times. The notification was a follow up from a September assembly which outlined the eligibility process for prom.

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

Adara Jones, 17, didn't realize she had 23 "cuts." She and her friends were frantic when they learned they were not able to attend prom.

The administration realized they had a situation on their hands. The principal and guidance counselor brainstormed how to make attending prom possible without giving away the opportunity to those who didn't earn it. They came up with a way for students to earn back their prom night.

They brought in the troops. Well, not exactly. Students have until May 9 to create a care box for 2012 South Philadelphia High School graduate John Russino's unit serving in Afghanistan. As of Monday, the school has received 10 packages.

John Russino is a South Philadelphia High School graduate, now serving in Afghanistan. NBC10.com

"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 South Philadelphia High School ROTC teacher Timothy Mack. "This is a great way to help soldiers and the students."

Students who missed class more than 20 times lost their prom privilege. The class cutting, referred to as "cuts," means that the student was not excused for a portion of the class. The "cuts" list was posted so everyone could publicly see who was affected.

Showing up late or leaving early caught up with nearly 250 students this year. The most serious class-cutter had 420 cuts.

Hackney decided what the students needed was to do something selfless for others. Since an external community service project would be too timely to track for hundreds of students on short notice, the school initiated its own service project to support the United States troops.

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

For every 20 cuts recorded, 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, they must submit 5 care packages. The estimated value of each package is about $25.

The prom to troops care package consists of: beef jerky, nuts, slim jim, sunflower seeds, granola bars, crystal light singles and lip balm.

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.