Making prom affordable: Senior projects at Oxford Hills help school, community


PARIS – High school seniors Emily Thomas and Hadley Hurd had an idea to resell used prom dresses at a fraction of their original cost.

Next week they will open up their “store” to girls at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and sell about 30 prom dresses, each for less than $50.

“The prom is so expensive,” Thomas said. “We want the girls to have nice dresses and not go broke.” The prom will be held May 8 at the Sunday River resort in Newry. The theme will be “Paris by Moonlight.”

Thomas and Hurd are two of the 277 Oxford Hills’ senior class students who are completing their senior projects as part of the graduation requirement.

“The goal is to make sure we can get ourselves out into the adult world, demonstrate self-learning outside of the classroom and help someone in the community,” said Theresa Fitzgerald of Harrison. She, along with Harley Ortiz and volunteers Stacia Burns, Robin Toothaker and Theresa’s grandmother, Linda Fecteau, spent five hours last month picking up trash along a 10-mile stretch of Route 117.

The students will donate the money from the bottles and cans they picked up to the Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in Fryeburg.

In another project, students Rebecca Bowden and Jill Hodgdon organized a spaghetti dinner to benefit Teens As Parents, a United Way charity for teenage mothers.

The senior projects began in the late 1990s when they were known as exit interviews. About seven or eight years ago, the staff at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School decided to do away with the portfolio part of the requirement and do senior projects, said English teacher Brewster Burns, who supervises the projects. The projects are scored by a panel of three teachers.

“The portfolios didn’t reflect any real world application, so we transitioned to senior projects,” Burns said. Projects must provide new independent learning, must be be a service or product that affects someone else and must be something that replicates things that happen in the real world.

“It’s a pretty good range of projects,” Burns said. “Some are pretty ambitious ones and there are some that are not so ambitious.”

The projects include ice fishing derbies, building bookcases and picnic tables, holding fundraisers and composing a musical score for a student film.

Hurd and Thomas, who are both interested in a fashion future, advertised the prom dress sale on posters, by word of mouth and on Facebook. The dresses were donated by students, family and friends.

Hurd and Thomas said girls usually drive to Portland or North Conway to shop for their prom dresses, sometimes paying hundreds of dollars for a dress for one special night.

“One girl paid $500 for a prom dress she’ll never wear again,” Hurd said.

The sizes of the dresses range from “really small” to women’s size 14, and the designs and colors are all over the spectrum: pink, reds and purples, and the traditional black dresses. Short and long, sequined and cutout, there is something on the rack for everyone.

How about a 1950s vintage, blue, tea-length dress covered with blue lace and a belt and matching short jacket? Or a sleek, black, sequined floor-length gown with triangle cutouts above the waistline, or dresses with the big 1980s shoulder pads?

Although there are many beautiful dresses to buy at the prom dress sale, Thomas said she had her heart set on a black sequined party dress by world-renowned designer Betsey Johnson that she saw on eBay. Last Wednesday, she made the winning bid of $99 for the dress, which is coming from Hong Kong.

“I just hope it gets here on time,” she said.

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