Teacher Tuesday: Red Ribbon Week

This week public schools throughout the country observe Red Ribbon Week, a week devoted to drug abuse awareness and prevention.  Students will participate in activities through the week to foster awareness of the dangers of drug abuse.  Started in the late 80’s as a tribute to DEA agent Enrique Camarena who was murdered because of his efforts to stop drug traffic, this week is usually observed the last week of October just before Halloween.
As a Drug Free Youth in Texas (D-FY-IT) sponsor and later, a Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) sponsor, it was part of my sponsoring duties to oversee Red Ribbon Week activities at our high school.  I enlisted the students in those organizations to lead the campus in activities promoting awareness of the effects of drug abuse.
It wasn’t an easy task.  It involved months of planning and cooperation with local law enforcement and other community and business members.  We held car washes and sold candy to fund Red Ribbon Week supplies such as red ribbons and posters, and we enlisted community members to help us in setting up scenarios such as mock car crashes and mock funerals with real coffins.
We also invited guest speakers such as those injured in car crashes involving drugs or alcohol and law enforcement officers who dealt with those consequences everyday.  Red Ribbon Week was a big event for our school every year, or at least for those involved in its planning and preparation.
But with all that planning and preparation the questions invariably came up.  “What good does Red Ribbon Week really do?  Is all this work really worth it?”
Some of the students in my classes who were open about their own drug use made fun of Red Ribbon Week and their classmates who participated in the activities.  They would even change the wording on red ribbons to read things like:  “Just say NO YES.”
I asked myself those very questions.  Were we just spinning our wheels, energy, and money on things that made very little difference?  Many of the students I taught learned their drug habits from their own parents or peers.  Many students participated in dress-up days and wearing red ribbons just to get the prizes and candy that were awarded.  Did anyone really listen to what was being taught about drugs?
In order to continue, I had to tell myself that yes, we did make a difference.  I had to believe that there were kids out there in the masses of students who needed the extra encouragement to take a stand against drugs and alcohol.  So I would just smile when some made fun of our ribbons or activities, knowing that we might never know what good we accomplished with our efforts.  I like to think of Red Ribbon Week as “another brick in the wall” of opposition to lives destroyed by drug abuse.
If you have the opportunity to participate in Red Ribbon Week, do so with enthusiasm and the knowledge that you may be giving a kid or even an adult a little more of the strength they need to avoid drug abuse.
Red Ribbon Week DOES help make a difference!