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Top of the class

A message written in red

Officials say Red Ribbon Week is an opportunity to drive home an antidrug message early.

Published October 26, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - Wearing red and carrying signs with antidrug messages, the student body lined up in the breezeway at Cross Bayou Elementary School in Pinellas Park last Wednesday, ready to march.

With radio station Q-105 broadcasting an instrumental version of Pump Up the Jam in the background, the long line snaked around the corner of the building and out onto the physical education field, with students chanting "Just say no!"

After a lap around the field and basketball courts, students and faculty members congregated under a pavilion to receive student awards, do cheers and listen to guest speakers as part of their kick-off to the 20th annual Red Ribbon Week, a national drug prevention campaign.

Principal Marcia Stone greeted the students and introduced guests, including local officials, business sponsors and Pinellas Park High School cheerleaders, who came out to support the event. Cross Bayou's chorus led the assemblage in a rendition of I Am Responsible, before Stone presented student awards for notable or outstanding performance in math, reading and writing for the FCAT.

School Board member Carol Cook talked about some of the elements of character that influence good decisions, like respect, honesty and self-discipline.

"If you're going to respect yourself and your body, are you going to take drugs?" she asked the students to a resounding "Nooooooo!"

Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler talked about the importance of making good decisions early in life.

"Our whole life is making choices. You can take the good road or you can take the bad road," he said.

Led by the high school cheerleaders, students and faculty members did the "Bobcat cheer" before saying the Pledge of Allegiance and taking a moment of silence to reflect on making good choices.

PTA member Claire Brockmeier said that although her children know that drugs are bad, the school's participation reinforces the message and shows support.

"They can set the example," she said, for "no drugs, no tolerance."

Brockmeier, mother of two children at the school - 8-year-old Megan and 5-year-old Garrett - said she worries more about temptations and peer pressure during the preteen years. But learning the lessons early in life can help cement the idea that drugs are bad, she said.

"I think it'll be in middle school. It (the rally) might just give them a little more confidence to walk away," she said.

Brockmeier helped other PTA volunteers assemble bottles of water and after-rally snacks for the kids before the event. Supporting the theme, bags of pretzels contained the message "Don't let drugs twist your minds." Students also received red wristbands to wear as a reminder of their commitment to stay drug free.

Guidance counselor Judy Jones, who coordinated the rally, said that actively involving the children helps them remember the message.

"It reinforces the message, and it's something that they never forget. It's a memorable event in their lives," she said. "When you do fun activities, kids remember it better."

Kay Steen, resource teacher with Safe and Drug Free Schools in Pinellas County, agreed.

"You plant the seed. Kids seem to think when you talk to them that everybody (uses drugs). That's simply not true."

Steen said children look to their teachers to set the example.

"They're modeling. They look at their teachers who are drug free" and want to emulate them, she said.

The Red Ribbon campaign began as a grass roots movement on behalf of Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officer kidnapped and killed while investigating a major drug cartel in Mexico in 1985. Camarena's family and friends in Calexico, Calif., began wearing red satin ribbons to honor him and as a symbol against illegal drug trafficking. The Pinellas County School Board adopted the program in 1990.

In the past, Cross Bayou would march down 102nd Avenue N and across 66th Street to communicate a unified stance against drug abuse. But safety concerns and traffic issues prompted school officials to limit the march to school grounds.

"Society can make a difference. They can help the schools be proactive," Steen said. "Until we get society working with us, it's a battle."

[Last modified October 26, 2005, 00:45:19]

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