Event highlights negatives of drugs and alcohol
During the annual Red Ribbon Week celebration, 680 of the 686 students at Sierra Mountain Middle School signed pledges to be drug and alcohol free. The pledges were collected by peer helpers, fellow classmates who have volunteered to counsel other students about problems they may be facing, during the week of activities in late October.
Designed to be a week of drug and alcohol education for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at SMMS, this year’s Red Ribbon Week featured a poster contest, a number of dress-up days with different themes and presentations stressing the harm that drugs and alcohol can do to young people.
“It was a great week. They all got very into it,” said SMMS counselor Rachel Falk. “In fact, some of the kids tried to sign four or five pledges to say that they’re drug free.”
The message that kids should be safe, happy and drug free is something the staff at SMMS tries to instill in their students year-round; however, Red Ribbon Week allows the kids to take a close look at what that message really means. It also gives them the opportunity to ask questions, share experiences, and use their creativity to promote the idea that kids should be drug free.
With that in mind, the Truckee Lion’s Club sponsored a poster contest in which all students were encouraged to create an anti-drug, anti-smoking or anti-alcohol message in visual format.
The posters were judged by a three-member panel from the Lion’s Club, with first prize going to eighth-grader Kelsey Shaw. The theme of Shaw’s poster was “Drop the herb and pick up a verb,” and it featured a list of activities (dance, shout, play, flirt, paint, create and skate, to name just a few) that kids could do instead of using drugs.
“There are a lot of things you can do besides drugs,” Shaw said, and she should know. As vice president of the student body, Shaw helped organize many of the lunchtime activities that the students participated in during Red Ribbon Week.
“I wanted people to see how bad it is for you to drink and drive,” said seventh-grader Emily Trowe about her second-prize winning poster. Trowe said that she made the poster because she likes to draw and had fun doing it. She didn’t expect to win, and she was surprised to learn that the top three posters would all be framed and displayed at Dairy Queen for the public to see.
“I feel great,” was how sixth-grader Martin Pearson described his third place award in the poster contest. He attributed the idea for his poster, which featured a “Stop abusing, start refusing” theme, to the DARE class he had in the fifth grade. Pearson was happy to be able to sign a pledge to be drug free and was excited to see his poster hung in the Dairy Queen.
Besides the poster contest, all students had the opportunity to participate in lunch-time activities based on different themes such as “Give drugs the boot day,” on which students held races in the cafeteria wearing fireman’s boots.
Much of the actual drug and alcohol education throughout the week was provided by the staff of peer helpers at SMMS – a group of students that serve as volunteer counselors for their classmates.
“A lot of the kids won’t talk to adults, but the peer helpers are cool,” said counselor Rachel Falk.
The peer helpers spent weeks researching topics of their choice related to drugs or alcohol and then made presentations throughout Red Ribbon Week in each of the advisory classes.
“I like helping people understand that drugs are bad. Even if we reach one person, that’s good enough for me,” said seventh grade peer helper Katie Dill.
That message was echoed by fellow seventh-grader Meghan Oats. “I like being a peer helper because I like helping kids and getting across that drugs are bad for you.”
Eighth-grader Kristen Milligan gave her presentation on the effects of teenage drinking – how it affects one’s body and behavior. “It’s a really easy topic, but it’s also a very serious one because it’s probably one of the problems we see most in this town,” she said.
“I think it got through to some kids. Some kids try to be the class clowns and they don’t really listen, but other kids, you can tell they were listening.”
Fellow eighth-grader Tucker Nevin became a peer helper because of his personal experience with one. “When I was in sixth grade, I went to a peer helper. Kids can come to peer helpers just to talk about any problems they want. Sometimes just to talk to make them feel better. And I kind of wanted to give back.”
Nevin did a presentation about how drugs are brought in to the country, a topic he felt few kids knew much about. “A lot of kids in this school do drugs, but they don’t really know where they come from. I feel like kids need to be informed on all of these things… so I thought of doing a unique (subject) like that.”
Nevin’s presentation fit in nicely with the original motivation behind Red Ribbon Week – the tragic story of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent named Enrique Camarena who was killed by drug lords while working undercover. To honor Camarena and the work he was doing, his family and friends began wearing red ribbons, and as word spread across the country, others decided to wear the red ribbons as well.
Now, every year, millions of Americans and schools across the nation celebrate Red Ribbon Week between October 23 – 31, to remember Camarena and to take a stand against illegal drugs.
At SMMS, the week ended with a dance on Friday in celebration of Halloween and being drug free.
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