Senior All Night Party (SANP) Introduction and Notes
Northville Michigan High School

by Clay Harrell.

Links to pictures below of recent Northville Senior All Night Parties.

What is a 'Senior All Night Party'?
The concept of a SANP (Senior All Night Party) was pioneered by Northville Michigan's high school parents about 20 years ago (1985 was the first year). The idea was to hold a safe party immediately after high school graduation. The kids would be 'locked-down' in the High School, unable to leave the party from start (10pm) to finish (4:30am).

This way the party environment could be controlled. No one could leave and re-enter, and security would make sure no drugs or alcohol could be brought into the school. This would keep the kids safe for one last time - Really the last time the entire high school senior class would be together as a unit.

Attendance for this party is very high. Of a class of about 450 kids, about 400 attend. That's about a 90% attendance rate. So for the most part, the kids won't be on the streets partying, causing trouble, and won't be drinking and driving.

I had NO idea that other area SANPs were using this web page!
I received an email from Nancy Thomas in Allen Park MI that they are doing their *first* SANP-after-graduation party. They are using this web page as their "inspiration" for their SANP party, and they had LOTS of questions. So here's a rundown of what has worked (and not worked) at the Northville SANP (that has been running since 1985).

  • Passionate People Need Only Apply. At Northville, the "head" of SANP are the parents of the class-elected Senior Class President. This is NOT how to choose the head of of SANP! In the past parents of the elected class president have made their kid turn in their "crown" so they wouldn't have to be involved with SANP (it IS a lot of work after all). Instead, a better method is to find people that WANT to be involved, and that are passionate about doing this project.
  • Theme. The parent choose the theme, not the kids. Also the prime objective is to keep the theme SECRET! This keeps the kids guessing and talking. Yea sure they'll figure it out at some point, but no need to "show your hand" before the fact. And parent, remember this is a party for 18 year old kids, not for you. So choose your theme wisely, and cater to your audience.
  • Set up your SANP as a non-profit. Yea this is a major headache, but in the long run, it's *really* going to help your situation in terms of money.
  • Work areas. Again to keep the theme secret, you need an "off site" work area for the decorations and meetings. Since the Detroit area is in recession, it shouldn't be too hard to find some empty space that you can rent. Northville set up a official NON-PROFIT status for their SANP. This helps for a lot of things. For example, they rent an old closed plaza Rite-Aid drugstore for $1 a year. The landlord can right-off this rental. This is good for him on a couple levels. First, the town hall likes the gesture. Second he gets thousands of dollars in tax right-offs (remember Northville SANP is a non-profit). And third he 'rents' the unused plaza space. (This is important because if he rented the space for undervalue to a 'retail' client, that rental price goes on public record. If other plaza clients see the lower price, it puts them in a position to ask for a lower rental from the landlord... See where that is going?)
  • Break up the SANP job into smaller pieces (committees). For example, a Decorations Committee and Finance Committee and Security. Then these can be broken down further too. For Northville the Decorations Committee has sub-committees, one for each area of decoration used in the High School for SANP. Like for 2007 and the James Bond theme, there was a committe for "Live and Let Die", "Casino Royale", Goldfinger", etc. For the Finance committee, this can be broken down too. Security is a group that maintains the high school lock-down, and also hires a nurse for the party.
  • Donations, you need them! Again if you are set up as a non-profit, people can donate to your SANP and write it off on their taxes! In the case of Northville, the Prizes and Gifts Committee goes to all the local businesses looking for product donations. The Food Committee solicits the local sub shops, Great Harvest bread donates bread, shakes, etc etc.
  • How much to charge for SANP attendance? At Northville, the price is $55 advance sale, $70 after January 1st for a kid to attend SANP. I believe SANP provides a custome t-shirt for the kids too, and they are asked to wear it at the party (this makes finding and keeping kids out of trouble a lot easier for SANP security). Northville also sells unpainted "horses" for $40 to the parents (the team mascot is the "Northville Mustangs", get it??) These are wooden horses mounted on a 3 foot dowel with a stand. The parents paint the horses and put pictures of their kid and other memorabilia on the horse. Then the parents deliver their horse to the SANP party beforehand, and they are arranged in an area of the SANP party. The kids get to look at their "shrine" and their friend's horses too. At the end of the night, the kids bring their horses home. But bottom line is someone in the Finance committee makes these horses, so they become a profit center for SANP. So between the money taken in for attendance and the $40 horse sales, this gives SANP a significant amount of money to work with.
  • Gifts. Another thing Northville does is make sure each kid gets a "decent" gift for attending SANP. These range from an embroidered towel or laundry bag for college, to whatever SANP can afford to purchase (or get donated by local businesses). These gifts are given out at the end of the night in an "awards" assembly, which runs the last 45 minutes of the party. Not all the gifts are the same either (though they could be). In addition the kids can win a random drawing of a gift card, dvd players, or other small gifts under $75. There's also door prizes of college goods (mugs, t-shirts, banners etc.)
  • Have lots of activities at your SANP. The worst thing you can have is a boring SANP. At Northville they have a casino (poker, craps, blackjack). They also hire an "inflatables" company. (I don't quite understand that, as these kids are 18 not 8 years old. But hey I guess jumping on inflatables is somewhat fun.) They rent electric motorized rideable "toliets" and have toliet races in the gym. They have a beauty parlor for the gals (run by the moms). Also usually hire a music video company, so the kids can "green screen" complete with costumes, and make their own DVD video. Also nice to have a photograph area again with costumes. In 2006 (western theme area), they had cowboy and dancing girl outfits, which the kids could dress up in and get their picture taken in front of a western town scene. There are also a Caricature artist hired to paint kids, and a coffee stand (for 2006 my wife did this see for details.) Often these people will do this for free if you ask (my wife did the coffee stand for free). They also hire a trained certified Hyptomist who has a seminar. In 2006/2007 I provided for free real casino slot machines and coin operated games (pinball, chexx hockey, bowling, etc), all set to free play for the kids to use. These were implemented into the decorations areas. The bowling games were a HUGE hit, as kids love to throw stuff! (Ball bowler and shuffle alley/puck bowler.) Again, you can't have too much for the kids to do. In all years but 2006, the kids generally complained at Northville there wasn't enough to do.

What Can YOU Do to HELP?
You, as a parent of a graduating Northville senior, can do quite a bit. This is your last manual-labor chore as a parent. Soon your kid will be gone, and all will be left are the bills. So what can you do? GET INVOLVED. In 2006, of 425 kids attending SANP, about 50 parents did 95% of the decoration work. In 2007, it was only 15 parents. That's PITIFUL. More time was spent arguing about whether the event should be held at Rock Financial or the High School. Please don't make that mistake again.

Northville is a rich suburb. But that doesn't mean you have to act that way, and hire-out all the work for this last-hooray. Yea sure, it's easy to just "cut a check" to Rock Financial and hire out everything there. But your kids won't remember that. THEY WILL remember something that YOU DID for them, like all the decorations and games at their High School's Senior All-Night Party. The kids WILL appreciate the efforts YOU do in the decorations. They may not give it a huge notice, but they do notice. So as a parent, get involved. The cost is some time, but it's for YOUR KID.

What is the Purpose of this Web Page?
I have been involved with the Northville SANP for the last two years. As a 'static' part of this non-profit project, I have gotten to see what works and what doesn't work. That is, how some things go well, and other not so well. With this in mind, I wanted to document the process as I see it, highlight the good stuff, and make suggestions for how it could be made better.

I also wanted a place to put pictures of the Northville SANP. No one seems to document this work, and it really should be archived. The amount of work involved for the decorations is incredible, and from year to year, largely forgotten after the party is over.

I provided 15+ coin-operated games (all set on free-play) for the SANP party (pinballs, chexx hockey, gun games, slot machines for the casino, bowling machines, etc.) I also provided A LOT of technical support and tools for the decoration construction. And my wife did the FREE coffee bar (didn't charge anyone anything, not the kids or SANP.) To give an idea on how valuable this service is, I have had several other high schools try and hire me to do the games for their schools' SANP (to date I have turned these offers down.)

These are the games I have bought and fixed for the SANP project. I store and repair these at the drug store, and move them to the SANP party. This is provided (of course) free of charge, and the game are operated at the SANP party on free-play (no money needed to play). And YES that's a 17 foot long ball bowler and a 10 foot long skee-ball machine, in addition to various other arcade games, slot machines, and pinballs (Star Wars, Terminator3, Simpsons, Lord of the Rings, etc.)

When the games are broken down they take up an area of about 10'x20'.

This shows the layout of the Northville High School. The area in blue is the "Main Street" hallway, and that's what get decorated. I propose the area in Red be the "arcade game" area, where I place the above pictured games.

Who is Involved with the Northville SANP?
The people involved change every year, because the people that attend the SANP (the graduating Seniors) change every year. This creates a continuity problem. That is, the lessons learned from year to year are largely forgotten.

The way it works is like this: the Senior class elects a Senior Class President. By default, the parents of this class president become the chairs of SANP. For Northville 2007, this created a problem. The original elected 2007 class president was forced (by his parents) to turn back his elected position! Why? Simple, his parents didn't want to do the work involved to make the Senior All Night Party (SANP) happen. Unfortunately, this was an indicator of things to come, as the 2007 SANP started out on a bad foot.

Having the senior class president's parents as head of SANP is generally a major mistake. The type of parents needed to run this party are people that understand FUN. Generally the class president's parents are, well, probably not the best candidates for this job. They tend to miss the whole concept of FUN and often forget WHO THE CLIENT IS (the kids!) The parents tend to be more concerned with themselves, and what they want, instead of remember this is about the KIDS and putting on a good-time party. Just something to keep in mind. (I'll say this a few times, because again, this point gets missed a lot.) It would be a far better approach to pick a set of parents that WANT to be head of SANP, opposed to just forcing the (kid class elected) Senior Class president's parents as the SANP heads. Think about that for a second, does it make any sense? It's almost a formula for disaster, putting people in charge of your kid's last High school function, where they really don't want the job (and frankly don't usually do a very good effort).

Anyway, the first meetings for SANP start usually about October/November of the school year. For 2007, the start was hampered by the above. And the new chairs that eventually took the SANP job were not as enthusiastic about their new position (compared to the 2006 Northville class).

Because of this, the whole SANP 2007 didn't really get rolling until well after January 2007. Compared to the prior year, this was a very late start. The 2006 SANP parents were well on their way to planning and creating the party by January (unlike the 2007 class). I hope the 2008 SANP people can get it together better than the 2007 SANP organizers.

What is My Involvement with SANP?
I have a kid in a Northville middle school. So my involvement in SANP has nothing to do with having a graduating senior. I have a rather unique position in that I have no political or kid involvement in the whole SANP process (and hence this web page), and I have continuity, as I would like to help SANP every year.

I provide games, at no charge, to the SANP party. What kind of games? Unique coin-operated games. Like pinball machines, Ms.Pacman video games, slot machines (for the casino), bowling games (yes an actual 17 foot long bowling alley and 10 foot skee-ball), rifle games, chexx hockey (bubble hockey), and other novelty type coin-op games. All coin-operated COMMERCIAL GRADE equipment, set to FREE PLAY. In the last two years, I provided 15+ games for each of the two SANP parties at absolutely NO cost to SANP. If SANP hired out for the games, I would say it would cost them in the neighborhood of $5000 for the game party rentals, for the level of service and number of games I provide. In addition, my wife ran a Cappuccino Coffee bar at the SANP party (2007 was her first year), again at NO cost to SANP (the cost to hire-out that job is about $1500).

In return, the SANP provides me a place to store and work on my games for the year. This way I have a place to prepare them for the party. And a place that I can go and make a mess working on games without my wife yelling at me that she can't get her car in the garage! So it's a win-win situation for both me and SANP. I'm happy with the arrangement (well, kind of happy, depending on the personalities involved, which changes from year-to-year).

For example, the 2006 class and Karen Polis were great. They were extremely supportive of my efforts, and integrated my games into their SANP decorations. This made the play environment for the kids great. The 2007 class was not as supportive. In fact initially the chairs of 2007 SANP tried to push me to pay them for storing my games (which they used for their SANP) at their facility. Frankly I was shocked and floored, since I put A LOT of work and money into this project. Ultimately I didn't have to pay them, but the fact that they demanded that really set a bad mood for the whole thing. But after it was all over, the head of SANP personally thanked me for the job I did.

What Makes a Good SANP?
The key here is to remember who is your customer! (At times I wonder if the SANP is more for the parents, and less for the kids.) Theme has some importance, as it's something for the kids to "hang their hat". For example, this year (2007), James Bond was picked for the theme (get it, 007, 2007?) Though that's a cute tie-in, most 18 year old kids don't relate to Bond. It was something *I* grew up with, but in the last 20 years there have not been a lot of memorable Bond movies (though Casino Royale helped put Bond back in the current kid's mindset, it's just one movie). In 2006 the theme at Northville SANP was again movie related (as it often is). But they picked more recent movies that the kids probably related to better like Wild Wild West (Will Smith), Star Wars, Napoleon Dynamite, Harry Potter, etc.

But theme aside, the paramount things is to have plenty to do for the kids at the SANP. The key is INVOLVMENT and INTERACTIVE DESIGN. This point is often missed, especially by the decorations committee. In the 2007 Bond SANP, this point was missed more than it should have been.

At the Northville 2006 SANP, this was done right (largely because of two people, Dave Laabs and Karen Paulos). For example, in the Wild West area, there was a gold mine. The gold mine was constructed using a sump pump to move water down a "river" (trough) and into a kiddie poll. Mud was put in the kiddie poll. Gravel was purchased and dried, and then spray painted gold. This was mixed with regular gravel and put in the kiddie pool. The kids would use pans and 'mine' for the gold gravel. Then they would take the gold to the Wild West's General Store, where it was weighed. In exchange they would get game tokens. Now they could go to the Casino and either turn the tokens in for raffle ticket(s), or they could gamble the tokens in the slot machines! This whole process took some kid time and some fun kid work. That's the idea - keep the kids moving and having fun, accomplishing some goofy tasks.

At the 2007 Bond SANP, this point was nearly missed. Just ONE person (Jeff Holler) in the decorations committee had a plan for interactive design. He had been to a James Bond themed restaurant in Milwaukee, and implemented some of their ideas into the 2007 SANP decoration design. What he did was pure genius, and if it was not for his efforts (in my opinion), the 2007 Bond SANP would have totally missed a great opportunity. There was also John Sprader, who did a considerable amount of work (that needs to be acknowledged and THANKED), but he largely missed the whole interactive design idea. John Sprader did a great job, and did an incredible amount of work, but he needed to put himself into the kid's shoes a bit more, and understand the importance of interactive design in a Senior All Night party.

Thanks to Jeff, for 2007, when the kids came into the school for the party, he took groups of 10 to 20 kids into a waiting room called "Universal Exports", aka Univex. (He designed this room a bit like the waiting room at Disney Land's Haunted House.) He introduced the kids to the Bond theme, and explained that they had to solve some basic clues inside the room. This would expose a hidden door, allowing them access to Moneypenny's office. The hidden door had an electric latch system, accessible by pressing one of the wall panels (I designed and implemented the electrics). The kids needed to find this switch to advance. He also had a hidden cam taking movies, which he would later burn to DVD. Once inside Moneypenny's office the kids were checked in and free to go to the rest of the party facilities.

Talking to the kids inside the party, they all commented how cool the electric hidden door was, and what they had to go through to find it. Jeff only had about 2 to 3 minutes with a group of 10 to 20 kids. But he made that short time one of the kid's most memorable moments of the party. This is what they talked about and what they will remember. All the non-interactive decorations they just walked by, *maybe* noticing for all of one second.

What Facilities or Events are at SANP?
The facilities and events are key to keeping the kids busy. At the Northville SANP, they provide the following ('rental' means SANP had to pay for this service):

  • Inflatables in one gym (rental).
  • Electric Toilet races in same gym (rental).
  • Casino with blackjack, poker, craps in other gym (free via volunteers).
  • Pinball, bowling, rifle, chexx hockey, slot machines and arcade games scattered throughout (free, my expertise).
  • Hypnotist (rental) in the auditorium at midnight.
  • Tattoo (temporary) artist (rental)
  • Caricature artist (rental, but very reasonable at $100)
  • Cappuccino Coffee bar (two in 2007: one rental and one free coffee bar from my wife).
  • Manicure area (free via volunteers).
  • Green screen DVD music video area (rental)
  • Food court in cafeteria

Decorations at SANP - Make it Interactive.
A lot of time goes into this portion of the SANP. More time is spent on the docorations for the Northville High School than probably any other part of SANP. In 2006, parents worked on the decorations from October 2005 to the party in June 2006. In 2007, decorations really didn't start until February 2007, leaving only four months to get the work done.

The key to remember when designing the decorations is INTERACTIVE DESIGN. Static displays are little more than wallpaper. The kids look once for a few seconds, if they notice at all. This was a major problem at the 2007 Northville SANP party. For example, Q's Lab could have been made much more interactive. This was a lost opportunity. In fact all the decorations past Moneypenny's office were static. Almost a waste of time, as the kids just don't notice. In today's Nintendo age, the decorations have to do something or somehow be interactive to get their attention. The kids won't stop to read static displays, or to notice small details. They are all about partying, and unless the display does something, they just walk right by.

Another idea I had for decorations, which was not implemented in either 2006 or 2007, was to use actors. That is, parents dressed up, and willing to "play a part". For example, mad scientists inside Q's Lab. They could rope the kids into doing some silly stuff, or helping with some goofy science experiment gone bad. In the 2006 SANP party, I had the idea of having a good/bad guy fight inside the Wild Wild West section. That is, two actors, one dressed in white, the other in black. And they would spend the night basically fighting each other (cap guns, fake blood, fake punches, rope fights, etc.) This is much in the style of what you would see on the Las Vegas strip in front of the Treasure Island hotel, where they have a pirate battle. Also having some of the parents dress up as western drunk bums or party girls or gamblers would have been a good gag too - they could interact with the students playing their parts. The problem is finding parents willing to play these parts - it's not easy work, and you have to have the right sense of humor.

The Rite Aide drug store SANP work area for making and storing the decorations. doing her thing at SANP2007. She provides hot and cold custom-made coffee drinks
(lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, etc.) for the kids at no charge.

Other Interactive Decoration Ideas.
I can't stress this enough - INTERACTIVE DESIGN. The decorations need to be interactive. This makes a huge difference. The interactive design could be simple or complex. For example, the 2006 SANP decorations were very interactive, but complex (making they hard to construct, set up, and tear down). The 2007 SANP decorations were non-interactive and simple (a much easier workload, but provided little impact). A mid-point between these two approaches is a better plan.

A good mix that keeps things easy is to implement the pinball and arcade games into the hall decorations. This keeps the parents from going nuts trying to design and build interactive displays. They can basically do the "wallpaper" approach, and allow the games to be the interactive part. Unfortunately in 2007 this concept was largely lost, as the games were not implemented into most of the hallway designs. Putting the games in the Casino is not a good idea. Keep the Casino with a gambling theme, and don't try and mix the arcade games into that theme. The games work much better in the hallway designs. The Northville hallway has a different 'feel', and is more social than the casino. And the games make the hallway an even better social and interactive environment.

Get a Static Project Leader.
Another thing that needs to happen with the Northville SANP is to have a static chair person or static decorations project leader. Every year there is a new chair, and all the lessons learned from the prior year are lost. SANP does keep a log book of ideas and what worked and what didn't. But that is hardly a substitute for having a human who went through the whole project in prior years. If the same project manager was used year after year, things could easily improve. Otherwise the learning curve for the new yearly chair is just too great. This is especially a problem with the decorations committee. A central project manager (the same one year after year) needs to be implemented - someone that can oversee all the designs for better integration and interactive design year after year.

The other problem is the storage of the prior year(s) decorations. Again without a project manager that did it the year before, A LOT of unnecessary work is replicated year to year. I saw it happen in 2007 in a big way, where designs for decoration panels were re-done because they didn't understand how it could have been recycled from the prior year. Also nothing ever gets thrown out. You would think this is a good thing, but unfortunately the wrong things seem to get saved. In the drug store, where all the decorations are stored, there were many years of "crap" piled up. John went through this stuff this year, and threw out MANY dumpster loads worth of junk. This made the storage area (drug store) much more manageable and easier for people to work on this year's decorations. But I kind of doubt that initiative will be taken again in the future (John and I loaded up his van many times with old useless displays, and he hauled them to his work and unloaded the trash into dumpsters there, since there is no garbage collection at the drug store.)