What do hats, the 50's, nerds, camouflage and school spirit have in common? They are all part of Red Ribbon Week at Harper Elementary, just one of the Webster Parish schools with anti-drug events scheduled for next week.
Red Ribbon Week is the nation's oldest and largest drug prevention program reaching millions of Americans during the last week of October every year, according to information provided by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
By wearing red ribbons the week of October 24 through 28 and participating in community anti-drug events, Webster Parish students will pledge to live a drug-free life.
"Children decide at a very early age if they are going to participate in using drugs or alcohol," said Cyndi Hair, Harper Elementary principal.
"It is highly important that we teach children from a very early age the dangers and consequences of the choices they make in life. If we wait until children are teenagers to teach them about drugs and alcohol, we have waited too late," she continued.
It is important that a young child's decisions are predetermined, said Hair, "so that when they are approached with drugs or alcohol, they already have an answer. It is imperative that they know ways to say, 'no.'"
WP schools also present a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program to fifth grade students each year, which is an important tool that teaches through role play, said Hair, "however, we need to prepare our students from an even earlier age these important skills."
Each year during Red Ribbon Week, activities are selected that allow an open dialog between students and staff, which Hair said, will reinforce the importance of being drug free.
Events at Harper Elementary include 50's Day Sock Hop – Sock it to Drugs; Camouflage Day – Hide From Drugs; Hat day – Put a Cap on Drugs; Nerd Day – Too Smart to Use Drugs and School Spirit/Red shirts and sunglasses – Our School is Too Cool to Use Drugs.
According to Suzy Toms, Webster Parish Coordinator of Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities, Red Ribbon Week has been organized since 1988 to honor DEA Special Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena who was kidnapped, tortured and killed by drug traffickers in Mexico in February 1985.
Shortly after Camarena's death "Camarena Clubs" were launched in his hometown of Calexico, California, where hundreds of club members pledged to lead drug-free lives to honor the sacrifice made by Camarena.
According to the U.S. DEA these pledges were delivered to First Lady Nancy Reagan at a national conference of parents combating youth drug use. Several state parent organizations then called on community groups to wear red ribbons during the last week of October as a symbol of their drug-free commitment.
The first National Red Ribbon Week was coordinated in 1988 by the National Family Partnership (NFP) with President and Mrs. Reagan serving as honorary chairpersons.
"This year Webster Parish's theme is 'One School, One Goal – Bully and Drug Free,'" Toms said.
"This theme," continued Toms, "is a reminder for our youth to resist alcohol, drug and tobacco use and to report instances of bullying for an overall safer and healthier lifestyle."
The theme One School, One Goal stood out as important to Toms and her department because of the recent consolidation of schools.
This is a week for the community to work together toward an important goal.
"Number one," Toms said, "is to let the community know that it's important to be drug free and to communicate that to our students.
"And," she continued, "it's important to take a stand for it at least once a year with our red ribbons and continue that stand daily."
Although there are no particular issues in Webster Parish, Toms said, "we just felt like there is such an emphasis in the media and with parents hearing more about bullying these days, it needed to be a part of the program as well.
"We are just saying that it's important to be a good person and to be kind to one another and to also be drug free in your own lifestyle," she continued.
"There are six proven strategies for parents to help children and adolescents avoid alcohol and drugs," said Toms.
Those strategies are:
Establish and maintain communication with your child
Get involved and stay involved in your child's life
Make clear rules and enforce them with consistency and appropriate consequences
Be a positive role model. Do not use illicit drugs or abuse alcohol. If you smoke, make plans to stop.
Teach your child to choose friends wisely
Monitor your child's activities – know what your children are doing, where and with whom.