DI­PLOMA SHOCK

With prom, a year­book, cap and gown and more, end­ing se­nior year with a bang is not cheap at many L.A.-area high schools

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Teresa Watan­abe

Maria Es­co­bar is a sin­gle mother of three with an an­nual in­come of $45,000 af­ter taxes. Like most par­ents, she wanted to give her daugh­ter a se­nior year to re­mem­ber.

She just didn’t ex­pect the price tag.

The ex­penses at North Hol­ly­wood High in­cluded a $450 pack­age for a cap and gown, prom ticket, se­nior class panorama pic­ture, year­book, let­ter­man jacket and other items. The $400 se­nior por­trait pack­age. The $300 class ring. The $250 prom dress, with an­other $220 for hair, makeup and nails, $85 for a limou­sine and $65 for shoes. The $120 for grad night at Dis­ney­land and other ex­penses. Over­all cost: about $2,225. “It’s out­ra­geous — we are all work­ing-class, try­ing to mo­ti­vate our chil­dren to stay in school and be some­one,” said Es­co­bar, who pulled the money from her sav­ings ac­count for her daugh­ter, Clar­isa Ortega. “But she’s my last daugh­ter, my baby. I wanted her to have the best.”

Es­co­bar’s sticker shock has hit fam­i­lies hard in th­ese fi­nal weeks of high school, which are filled with such iconic se­nior events as prom, grad night, class break­fasts, pic­nics and trips — not to men­tion year­book ads, col­lege ap­pli­ca­tion fees and cam­pus vis­its. Fi­nan­cial ex­perts es­ti­mate that se­nior-year ac­tiv­i­ties could cost $5,000 to $10,000; a na­tion­wide sur­vey by Visa Inc. found that 2015 prom spend­ing alone topped $900 — a third of that cov-

er­ing in­creas­ingly elab­o­rate “prom-pos­als,” ask­ing dates to the dance.

More aff lu­ent fam­i­lies may shrug off the costs. Ran­cho Pa­los Verdes par­ent Jon Kaji fig­ures he spent nearly $15,000 this year, in­clud­ing $4,000 for col­lege vis­its to Ja­pan, where his daugh­ter, Austi, will at­tend Waseda Uni­ver­sity in Tokyo. He jokes that he’s an “ATM cash ma­chine,” dish­ing out nearly $2,500 for Austi’s se­nior-year dance ex­penses, grad night, ditch day and other Pa­los Verdes Penin­sula High events.

“It goes out and it doesn’t come back,” Kaji said. “I just suck it up.”

For lower-in­come par­ents, the ex­penses present a sig­nif­i­cant hard­ship — yet also a f lurry of ef­forts to help.

Isidra Varela-Rosas, se­nior class pres­i­dent at Este­ban Tor­res High in East Los An­ge­les, said she man­aged to af­ford her ac­tiv­i­ties by rais­ing money through school-spon­sored choco­late sales, dona­tions from two teach­ers and sup­port from her cousin and par­ents. The UC Berke­ley-bound se­nior said she would not have been able to at­tend her prom with­out their help.

“All se­nior events are seen as a luxury, but they closed off my high school years and re­ally made them mem­o­rable,” she said.

At Daniel Pearl Mag­net High in Lake Bal­boa, par­ents col­lected and of­fered gen­tly used prom dresses. Se­niors, mean­while, be­gan rais­ing money three years ago with such events as dough­nut and pizza sales out­side school hours, bi­weekly dances and bowl­ing, minia­ture golf and ice skat­ing par­ties.

Robert Hoeks, the school’s se­nior class spon­sor and a so­cial stud­ies teacher, said the ef­forts raised about $5,000 — enough to of­fer the se­nior break­fast and pic­nic for free and drop the price of a prom ticket to as low as $65. (Else­where in the San Fer­nando Val­ley, Syl­mar High charged $115.)

Hoeks said the ef­forts largely suc­ceeded, as the prom at­tracted 125 stu­dents, mostly from the se­nior class of 120. “My goal was that money wouldn’t be an is­sue — if [stu­dents] wanted to go, we could make it work,” Hoeks said.

Still, not ev­ery­one who wanted to at­tend did.

Jake Dobbs, whose fam­ily is strug­gling to live on $24,000 in an­nual So­cial Se­cu­rity in­come af­ter his fa­ther lost his busi­ness, said he couldn’t af­ford to buy the dressy clothes needed for prom.

“I wasn’t too bummed.... I’m not a real party per­son, but it would have been nice to go with friends,” he said.

At Pal­isades Char­ter High School in Pa­cific Pal­isades, the Booster Club raised money for se­nior class ac­tiv­i­ties by of­fer­ing $200 VIP seats on the foot­ball field for grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies.

Ar­ca­dia High of­fered sup­port to low-in­come stu­dents such as Sunny Xu, who qual­i­fies for fed­er­ally sub­si­dized school meals. Sunny, 18, said his grad­u­a­tion fee of $40 was waived and his grad night ticket was dis­counted from $130 to $65. He passed on se­nior pic­tures but took the plunge for prom, spend­ing $370 for his first suit and two tick­ets.

To pay for such ex­penses, Sunny used sav­ings from his $9-an-hour life­guard­ing job, as did his class­mate, Mackenzie Wong. Mackenzie, 17, has worked as a life­guard for the last two years, sav­ing enough to pay for half her $300 prom dress, $180 for dance tick­ets and f low­ers and $800 for col­lege ap­pli­ca­tion fees.

“It’s the only way I can af­ford this; oth­er­wise I’d be beg­ging my mother for money,” said Mackenzie, who plans to at­tend UC San Di- ego.

Linda Wong, Mackenzie’s mother and a re­tired non­profit ex­ec­u­tive, said she di­rected her daugh­ter to pay for some of her ex­penses to learn the value of money. But she said se­nior-year costs were get­ting “ridicu­lous” and they should be limited based on feed­back from fam­i­lies on what they are able to pay.

“It’s good to make se­nior year a real mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence, but it has to be done within rea­son and with an un­der­stand­ing that fam­i­lies have dif­fer­ent lev­els of fi­nan­cial re­sources,” Wong said.

Pho­tog raphs by Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

CLAR­ISA ORTEGA waits to ac­cept her di­ploma from North Hol­ly­wood High, which charged $450 for a grad­u­a­tion pack­age.

“IT’S OUT­RA­GEOUS,” Maria Es­co­bar, watch­ing her daugh­ter grad­u­ate, says of the costs. “But … I wanted her to have the best.”

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

FI­NAN­CIAL EX­PERTS es­ti­mate that se­nior-year ac­tiv­i­ties could cost from $5,000 to $10,000. Above, Shal­i­mar Green holds up a sign at the North Hol­ly­wood High grad­u­a­tion of her sis­ter Clar­isa Ortega.

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