Children set drug-free goals early

Steve Granata spun seven basketballs simultaneously Monday during a Red Ribbon Week assembly at Valley View Elementary School, the highlight of second-grader Matthew Sorber-Petrie’s day.

The basketballs spun on Granata’s knees and feet as he juggled three more and explained that with practice and dedication, anything is possible, including staying drug-free.

“The pledge means not to smoke, drink, [do] drugs or hurtful things to my body,” Matthew said.

Every student signed a pledge to be drug-free and work toward helping the community do the same. Students also wore red wristbands and planned to tie red ribbons around the campus today.

“The message is to follow your dreams and be healthy,” said Lisa Eichensehr, a parent of three sons and chairwoman of the school’s Red Ribbon week program.

Matthew and his classmates in Charlotte Briner’s second-grade class wrapped up some math exercises as two student volunteers passed out the pledges. On the whiteboard, Briner had written out three themes central to staying drug-free: To give your best, never give up and believe in yourself.

“These are important qualities to how to stay drug-free and read well, do math or play basketball,” she said.

Drug and alcohol education is done across every grade level. Programs that try to show kids what drugs look like and their effects on the body are brought into graduating grade levels. Students are shown what a cigarette is, what drinking means and the effects of drugs. Exposure to drug and alcohol education at an early age helps children when they become teenagers, Briner said.

“They’ll know more about it so they don’t suddenly become a teenager and have never heard of drugs,” she said. “It gives them positive ideas how to handle that situation, to be solid in yourself and trusting yourself.”

Valley View is not part of DARE, an organization devoted to drug and alcohol education and prevention in kindergarten through 12th grade. But Ralph Lochridge, communications director for DARE America, said elementary exposure to drug and alcohol awareness benefits students as they enter middle and high school.

“It should definitely be encouraged,” he said. “I can’t understand why anyone would not, unless they are . . . against exposing kids to life lessons and life skills and staying away from alcohol and gangs and other high-risk behaviors that are out there.”

After signing and dating their pledges, Briner’s second-graders broke out colored pencils and crayons and began decorating. Joanne Lee shaded her certificate with a 12-color rainbow. Cole Caneva penciled shooting stars, and Alexander Chung colored his entire pledge red.

The roundup was just as much about art as letting the lessons sink in.

“I learned to give my best, believe in myself and never give up,” said second-grader Athena Bamrick.

 MAX ZIMBERT covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at

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