Schools take on substance abuse

La Cañada Elementary School students on Tuesday got a head start on their district counterparts in observing Red Ribbon Week, an annual national substance abuse awareness campaign. The LCE campus organized an orange-and-black “Say Boo to Drugs” day and allowed children to wear zany hairstyles.

The rest of the local public schools plan to hold related events next week. The La Cañada Elementary observance dovetailed with a recent visit by the school’s resource officer, Deputy Cesar Romero, a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Success Through Awareness and Resistance unit. As a STAR representative, the deputy collaborates with educators, students and parents to discourage students from turning to drugs, gangs and violence.

Despite the frivolity on campus Tuesday, the underlying message was sobering: Drugs, alcohol and tobacco can derail your dreams.

“I think they’re definitely making the connection,” said LCE principal Christine Castillo. “The students’ signs and posters are translating the message into kids’ words. That’s where we’re seeing their buy-in.”

Following input from Romero and the Red Ribbon Week theme, LCE students receive reinforcement in their classrooms.

“The teachers are carrying through the theme,” Castillo said. “They’re talking to students about healthy choices and what are the good choices.”

And the lessons learned through Red Ribbon Week and the STAR collaboration reaffirm basic principles that foster a healthy learning environment, Castillo said.

“Be safe. Be respectful. Be responsible. All those components are important in order to have a successful school,” she said.

Red Ribbon Week began following the 1985 death of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camerena. Camerena was murdered after working undercover in Guadalajara, Mexico for several years.

With planning provided by members of parent-teacher associations, the Paradise Canyon and Palm Crest elementary schools, along with La Cañada High and LCHS 7/8, will bring home the message with a variety of activities. Many will be light-hearted, others serious.

Red Ribbon Week will be kicked off on Sunday, when the high school will be decorated with red ribbons. At 3 p.m., PTA President Denise Longo and student representative Emily Temple will help present the start of the school site’s celebration.

On Monday, LCHS principal Ian McFeat will speak and red bracelets will be handed to all students in grades 7-12. Tuesday and Wednesday will feature several fun surprises, said Tanya Wilson, the district’s safety officer.

The centerpiece of the school’s Red Ribbon Week will occur next Thursday, however, when Deputy Eric Matejka of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s sub-station will present several displays that show the dire reality of drug and alcohol use.

Matejka will bring along a sheriff’s department trailer that contains a display of confiscated drugs and paraphernalia, a video explaining the dangers of drugs, and a vehicle wrecked in an accident that involved alcohol use.

Students will also be given the opportunity to see how drinking alcohol can impair them by wearing “drunk goggles” of varying strengths while riding children’s tricycles. A poster contest also will bring home the message.

“Anything related to drugs and alcohol is obviously of top importance for our students to understand what would happen if they drink and drive,” said Jarrett Gold, assistant principal of discipline, activities and athletics. “The reality is a lot of kids die drinking and driving.”

In fact, the dangers of drinking and driving hit home for Gold, who lost two high school friends who were drinking and driving. Six years ago, a student at Taft High School, where Gold served as coach and administrator, died while on her way to a school prom.

“The girl was a freshman going to her senior prom. She actually had her seat belt on, but she slipped through. She went out the sunroof and passed away,” Gold said.

While La Cañada students are among the highest achieving in California, they, like all teenagers, are at risk, he said.

“In high school, I think some kids make poor choices. I think it’s important they know what their poor choices could bring,” Gold added. “It’s our job to inform these kids. It sits in their brains and makes them think twice.”

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