(Photo by Michelle Felter, Staff)
SIKESTON -- From working with students, counselors in the Sikeston R-6 district have learned that, regardless of age, several are affected by drug use.
"It's definitely a problem in this town," said Kelly Bright, fifth grade counselor at the Fifth and Sixth Grade Center. And that's why they take advantage of the opportunity to educate students to "Just Say No."
Red Ribbon Week officially kicks off today, and schools around the area have plans to preach the drug awareness and prevention message to students. Since 1985, the campaign is marked the last full week of October, and is a visible stand against substance abuse. Some related activities have already started in schools and other events are planned for next week, as the 2008 campaign wraps up Oct. 31.
"It is the week that we promote a drug-free environment," said Debbie Miller, counselor's assistant at Southeast Elementary. "I think it's important that we educate our kids to make wise and good choices."
But it's not just about Red Ribbon Week -- it's setting up the conversation and education for the entire school year -- and future years.
"What we're trying to stress is that it's not just a week long, but this is the kickoff to a yearlong campaign against drugs," said Lisa Vaughn, a counselor at Sikeston Senior High School. "It's something that the kids need to be reminded of constantly."
There, the focus is on marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs, said Vaughn. That's based on what national surveys call the biggest problem areas for teens, in addition to what counselors and others have seen and heard are big issues in Sikeston.
Nancy Townsend, eighth grade counselor at the Seventh and Eighth Grade Center, said officials, students and volunteers have several events planned, such as a slogan of the day contest.
"(The week) is just basically following the theme of keeping focus on your goals and not letting drug abuse get in the way of your success," said Townsend.
Several school have planned theme days, such as wearing camouflage to "be invisible to drugs," or sports clothing to "team up against drugs."
Bright said special things like dressing up and winning prizes are a good way to drive the message home for students. "It catches their attention," she said.
Vaughn agreed. Events at the high school include a poster contest, wrecked car to symbolize the dangers of drinking and driving, and even a simulation where students will try on and walk with "drunk goggles" to see firsthand how drinking can impair vision and balance. Also during the week, students will reorganize the SADD chapter -- formerly Students Against Drunk Driving, now Students Against Destructive Decisions -- which has not been active the past couple of years.
Students were also given a quiz to test their knowledge, and are doing a scavenger hunt this week, looking for drug messages around campus. "They're having to actively look at he information and write it down, so that's reinforcing their learning," said Vaught. "Sometimes, assemblies can get boring."
And it takes a lot of people -- more than just teachers and other school officials to put on the event. Parent organizations, civic groups such as the Elks Club and student groups all pitch in to sponsor events for Red Ribbon Week.
Some businesses are involved too. Coupons were donated for students to encourage a drug free lifestyle. And the counselors at Sikeston R-6 are looking for more involvement -- they sent a letter to the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce, asking community members and businesses to participate in the campaign against drugs.
"It takes participation from the entire community to make this campaign a success," the letter said. Counselors asked them to display red ribbons, provide them for employees, host a wear red day, display a Red Ribbon Week message on the marquee, run specials for the week, or to get creative with other ideas.
A lot of learning to be drug free also takes place in the home, the counselors agreed. With prescription drug abuse becoming a bigger issue, Mission Missouri has provided the district with informational packets for parents, to be handed out at parent-teacher conferences on Thursday.
Vaughn said the high school sent out newsletters to parents about the week and things they can do at home. "Research shows that kids who learn a lot about drug risks from their parents are up to half as likely to use drugs as those who don't," she said. "And fear of upsetting parents is the No. 1 reason why kids don't use drugs."
That's why she and others are encouraging parents to also join in the conversation, stay in communication and connected with their children.
"Kids at home see what their parents do," added Miller. "I think that, if their parents set a good example, then they will follow that, too."