635 Children Take a Stand Against Drugs


Just to be sure that everyone got the message, more than 600 kids at Moorpark's Campus Canyon School spelled it out for them--"Say No" in big red letters on a playground the size of a football field.

To cap their Red Ribbon Week for a drug-free future, students, teachers and parents wanted to come up with something really memorable.

And on Friday, most of them concluded that they had made it clear that their school means business when it comes to fighting drugs.

Eight-year-old Leah Murphy and her two 8-year-old friends, Kelsea Turrow and Robin Jenkins, were among those forming the letter "S," so they had plenty of time to explain the point behind it all.

"We say we're not going to take drugs, and that we won't smoke or drink," Leah said.

"Yeah, it's a promise," Robin added.

It took weeks of planning, and something bordering on military precision to get 635 kindergartners through third-graders arranged on a rich green field of grass behind the school to spell out "Say No."

And it took some good old-fashioned discipline to keep them there long enough for a helicopter to fly over so that a photographer could record the event for posterity.

Holly Mikovits, a parent and vice president of the school's parent-teacher group, handled the planning, and Assistant Principal Chris Kelley handled the discipline-- shouting instructions to students through a bullhorn.

The waiting was the hardest part.

The students had their red shirts on and were standing at attention in little rows that formed the letters by about 9:20 a.m. But the helicopter was still nowhere in sight at 9:45.

Just as a few fidgety youngsters scanned the skies and screamed impatiently, "Where are they?" Kelley decided to fight off mutiny with a few hearty rounds of the school cheer from the top of a ladder.

And then came the helicopter--to the delight of the children and the relief of Kelley.

"Oh, they're not going to forget this," said parent Kim Tudor, just as the helicopter dipped down for a photograph.

Tudor's son Michael was somewhere in the sea of red shirts and was probably squinting against the wind kicked up by the helicopter.

"He's been talking about this for weeks," Tudor said, holding a movie camera in one hand and her 3-year-old daughter's hand in the other.

"He made sure he didn't leave home without a red shirt," she said.

Forming the human letters was just one of many events at dozens of schools in Ventura County commemorating the 10th anniversary of Red Ribbon Week, which is meant to promote healthy, drug-free living.

The Red Ribbon campaign began in 1985, spurred by the slaying of federal agent Enrique Camarena, who was killed by drug traffickers in Mexico. The national theme of this year's Red Ribbon Week is "Be Healthy and Drug-Free."

In Simi Valley, more than 1,000 people attended a Thursday night rally at Bob Jacob Memorial Stadium, fervently booing drugs and saluting the service of area firefighters and police officers.

Besides celebrating Red Ribbon Week, the event was dedicated to honoring slain Simi Valley Police Officer Michael Clark. Clark's widow, Jennifer, attended the ceremony, graciously thanking both the children who have given her gifts, and the community, which has so far raised more than $120,000 for a family trust fund.

Campuses across the county celebrated the week by passing out red ribbons, and having students sign pledges that they would lead drug-free lives. At Fillmore's Sespe School, students wore red on Friday and drew posters to increase drug awareness.

At Ventura's Blanche Reynolds School, the students also wore bracelets all week with "Just Say No" written on them, and at University School in Thousand Oaks, the youngsters tied red ribbons on the fences around the playground.

The idea, organizers say, is to reach children before they are reached by drugs, Kelley said.

Kelley said lessons where the children participate, where they can see, hear or touch during the learning process are the most effective.

"I think this one will be a memorable lesson," she said.

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