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Students celebrate Red Ribbon Week

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RONAN — Students at K. William Harvey Elementary School spent last week dressing up in silly hats, sunglasses, their pajamas, slippers and school colors before the grand Friday finale when each class competed to see who could don the most red that matched the ribbons they wore all week. 

The festivities were in honor of school Red Ribbon Week, a national anti-drug campaign.

“It’s meant to make people aware about drug use and alcohol abuse and cigarettes — that’s a big one people often forget about, the cigarettes,” counselor Tammy Young said. 

Teaching drug and alcohol abuse awareness to young children at different age and maturity levels can be challenging. 

“I think the primary focus is to get kids to make healthy choices,” Young said. “With the little ones, I don’t even focus so much on the drug portion of it. We focus on making healthy choices, because I just don’t think they understand. I think they’ve heard of stuff and they think it’s bad for them, but not so much like the older kids.” 

Older students completed activities that made them think about ways to avoid peer pressure, how to outsmart people who might trick them into taking drugs, and the ways people’s lives are affected long-term. 

It was clear during the exercises that some students had more knowledge and experience with drugs and alcohol than others. 

“My parents used to do drugs,” a third grader blurted out to the class. 

“Used to? That means they are doing better, now?” Young asked the boy. “I’m glad to hear that.” 

Other second and third graders were able to shoot off the names of different drugs and alcohol. 

Young said she tries to take whatever students bring to a discussion and turn those experiences into positive thoughts. 

“Lots of them come up and say ‘Oh, my parents smoke and my parents drink,’” Young said. “That one I get a lot. It doesn’t surprise me. But when he said his parents used to use drugs, I tried to play on that saying ‘Okay, they used to use drugs, they’ve made the decision to make a healthy choice now in their life.’ In a sense, it’s kind of good, especially with the older kids that say their parents used to do this because it shows kids it doesn’t have to be a forever thing, you don’t have to lose everything. You can turn around and you can become healthy again.” 

Other students were very familiar with the anti-drug campaign, and could almost recite the history of Red Ribbon Week, which began in 1985 after the torture and death of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena, who was working in Mexico. 

One student was very confused about what “craziness” drugs could cause. 

“It will turn you into a cannibal, won’t it Ms. Young?” the boy whispered into the counselor’s ear. 

Young spent a few minutes debunking that concern. 

Whether children are well versed in the effects of drugs or alcohol or not, Young said it’s important to have conversations about drugs and alcohol with children. 

“I think parents need to be honest with their kids,” Young said. “I’m not saying they have to go out and tell them what can happen. I think you can tell them to stay away from things that they don’t know what they are. I don’t think it’s good to sugarcoat it for kids and act like it doesn’t happen, because it does, and I think they need to be aware these things are going on in our community and to stay away from those things.” 

Many students don’t have someone to educate him or her about drugs and alcohol at home. 

“I just think talking to your kids is huge,” Young said. “Unfortunately, I hate to say it, but I don’t see enough of it. There are so many kids out there who just don’t have somebody to talk to when they get home. They just need to know there is somebody there that they can trust.” 

Parents can visit drugfree.org to find resources that explain how to start a conversation about drugs and alcohol with their children. 

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