By Mary O’KEEFE
Red Ribbon Week is being observed this week throughout the Glendale Unified School District. The event is designed to start a dialogue about drugs and alcohol use with elementary, middle and high school kids.
Lincoln Elementary School got a jump on Red Ribbon Week by having some very special guests on Friday, and they arrived in an unusual way.
The students sat on the playground expecting a typical assembly. As they waited, a helicopter became visible over the mountain range. To the surprise of many of the children, the gates of their playground opened and a large Drug Enforcement Agency truck and a Glendale K-9 police patrol car drove toward them. Then the helicopter landed near the grassy area of their playground, welcomed by the screams of delight from the children.
Special Agent Wade Shannon introduced himself to the assembly audience and then explained to the kids what the DEA does, showed them the equipment the agency uses and talked to them about making good choices.
“We are here to talk to you about Red Ribbon Week,” Shannon said.
He explained to the students that the week was in honor of DEA Agent Enrique (Kiki) Camarena and that he was killed in 1985 because of “bad guys.” He told the students those agents like Kiki and others work to keep everyone safe.
“This is our Clan (Clandestine) Lab Truck. [Drug dealers] can make all of these horrible [drugs] that can rot your brain. All these chemicals they use can make you sick,” he said.
The truck is equipped with gear like hazardous material suits that help keep agents safe when they have to enter drug labs, he added.
He demonstrated the equipment that agents use to enter a home of a suspected drug dealer and how they have to take precautions because it is a very dangerous job.
He told the kids he wanted them to remember what agents do to keep them safe when, and if, someone approaches them or asks them to use drugs.
“You can think back on what this [assembly] was like and remember what we do to keep you safe,” he said.
He then held up a bag of prescription drugs.
“This is like medicine you may have at your home,” Shannon said.
He told the students there were good medicines that help them get better but those medications should only be used when a parent gives it to the child.
“We know these are the [drugs] kids this age see,” he said after the presentation.
Many elementary students have older siblings who bring friends to their home. Throughout the demonstration Shannon referred to older kids that might approach the younger ones and offer them drugs, prescription and other types of drugs.
The DEA only visits about 25 schools in the region, which includes Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties. Lincoln was one of the lucky schools chosen for the visit because of student Sophia Jezzenszky. Her parents are friends with Shannon and asked if they would come to the school for Red Ribbon Week.
“It is a program that we knew DEA does,” said mom Bettina. “It was a great start for Red Ribbon Week.”
Lincoln Principal Stephen Williams said it was an opportunity he wanted his school to have but there was a lot to consider before the helicopter landed on the playground.
“The first consideration was student safety,” Williams said. “The kids got to see something that was a once in a lifetime [event].”
He said Red Ribbon Week could be complicated when dealing with elementary students.
“You heard the agent mention more generic medication,” he said of the emphasis on prescription medication. “It is really about getting them to understand making healthy choices, going beyond just saying no, to know that whatever I do has an affect on me and my body.”
Traditionally, Williams has a question of the day that will deal with a certain subject or event. During Red Ribbon Week, the questions will be about how students can make healthy choices, from the food they eat to their behavior.
The Glendale K-9 unit was there with Officer Feely and her dog Yudy. There was a demonstration of how the K-9 unit works with the DEA agents when a drug suspect is found.
“I think the kids loved the dog [demonstration],” Williams said.
Emma Cassin, a fifth grader, was watching the assembly with friends Sinead Martin and Cade Lipscomb, both fourth graders.
“I thought it was awesome,” Emma said.
Fellow students Edrin Adjamian, in the fourth grade, added, “I knew not to do drugs at all, but I found out how important it was not to do them.”
Fourth graders Dylan Guzman, Ian Archer and Derek Keshian couldn’t wait to see the equipment used by the Clan Lab Truck.
“I am going to tell my brother not to do drugs,” Derek said, eager to share what he learned from the demonstration.
Fifth grader Alexandra Alvarado said the helicopter was a surprise.
“At first I didn’t know what was [happening],” she said. “The helicopter was loud, like thunder.”
Over at Crescenta Valley High School, Red Ribbon Week began on Monday and although it may not have started with a helicopter landing it was a memorable start to a week of awareness.
The school, partnering with PTSA and led by health teacher Peter Kim, had students watch a video during their second period about Jacqui Saburido who shared her struggles after being burned and disfigured in a car accident.
“It was a great video. … It shows a woman who was involved in a drunk driving accident – she was a victim – and how she had been disfigured and maimed. It [dealt] with the drunk driver who is in prison,” said CVHS Principal Michele Doll. “We asked our teachers to discuss the video.”
Teachers spoke with students about the video, the consequences of drinking and driving as well as drug and alcohol issues in their school and community.
Associate Principal Mike Bertrum and School Resource Officer Scott Shinagawa were able to secure a vehicle that had been involved in a drunk driving accident. The vehicle was on display in the school’s quad for the week.
The PTSA handed out cards with emergency and help line numbers on one side and information on the Fire House youth center on the other.
“[I think we] started a good conversation and [brought] awareness to the kids about drinking and driving,” she said. “I hope the students were impacted by the video and we can all make good choices.”