CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County police and school officials say the goal is to keep students safe during some of the most memorable events of their lives.

For 18 years now, Kanawha County Sheriffs, Metro 911, the Kanawha County Commission, the board of education, among others have been coming together to launch Operation Graduation Prom Alive, a program meant to keep students safe and ensure no fatalities ensue on prom and graduation nights.

They all met Thursday morning to start getting Operation GPA underway in the community yet again.

Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford said there’s a full presence of police from every county law enforcement agency as well as state sheriffs out on those nights.

“We’ll go to the areas where the proms are and the graduations are and let the kids know that we’re there, we’re there to protect them and help them.

He said they coordinate with the 911 center, so when they get calls about after parties or events that may have gotten too out of hand, officers will dispatch to that location and help bring the situation back under control.

Rutherford said they also watch the roads to make sure no one is driving recklessly or are under the influence.

He said the program has really made a difference for the safety of teenagers on prom and graduation nights.

“We’re not there to cause a problem for them, we’re not there to harass or do anything to them, we just want to make sure they’re safe,” Rutherford said. “We’ve been fortunate that it has been 18 years since we started the program and we’ve had no kids killed or injured.”

However, Rutherford said that unfortunately wasn’t the case before Operation GPA.

Kanawha County School Superintendent Tom Williams said there were at least seven fatalities that occurred in the St. Albans area from car accidents following prom and graduation when he was principal there several years ago.

Williams said while it’s a fun, celebratory occasion, it can be a very daunting one for school personnel, as they have to worry whether the students are safe or not after the main events are over.

“Prom night and graduation night, anybody who has been a high school principal knows you don’t sleep until the next morning when you know all of the kids have made it home safely, and that was always my greatest fear, the call in the middle of the night,” Williams said.

Williams was joined by all of the county high school principals Thursday during the announcement of the re-launching of Operation GPA.

Kanawha County Commission President Lance Wheeler presented the principals with checks of $2,500 each to help support the program.

Wheeler said the idea for Operation GPA came from his fellow commissioner Kent Carper 18 years ago when he wanted to provide a safety program for graduation night. He said it takes the whole community to successfully carry out the initiative.

“We’re proud to be able to support all of our partners in this, and this wouldn’t be able to be done if it wasn’t for everyone coming together,” Wheeler said.

Rutherford said the program has continued to expand over the years since it was launched. He said it now not only covers prom and graduation nights, but they also have police presence out at the beginning of the school year, as well.

He said they plan to keep running Operation GPA for many years to come, as the statistics are showing that it’s working.

“You know, there’s no way to really sit back and say that we saved this person or that person, there’s just no way to know, but we can say since the program has been in effect, we have not had one kid who has been injured or killed,” Rutherford said.