Red Ribbon Week has become much more than pinning on a looped piece of cloth and making a pledge to stay off drugs.
The nation’s oldest youth drug prevention program was marked at Hall County and Gainesville schools this week with talent shows, art contests, guest speakers and themed fashion days, from mismatched socks to fright wigs.
At East Hall Middle School, where no one could forget what week it was from the myriad posters lining the halls, many of the nearly 900 students came to school Thursday decked out in camouflage.
"It shows that we’re drug-free and bullying-free and everyone else needs to be, too," said seventh-grader Kayla Cofield, 12.
Cofield and schoolmates A.J. Parris and Heidi Thompson read aloud short poems prior to the dedication of a "promise garden" in front of the school before classes began Thursday.
The school’s principal, Kevin Bales, explained that the colors of the tulips planted there — yellow, pink, purple, and red — would represent the issues the faculty and students have discussed this week — honoring the troops, cancer awareness, combating bullying and committing to living their lives without drugs.
"It has really connected with our kids that it’s important to stay drug free," Bales said.
At several area schools, Red Ribbon Week has been like an amped-up spirit week with a greater purpose. Bales’ faculty tackled several issues with their students at once, while sticking to the theme that was first adopted in the mid-1980s as a tribute to a fallen Drug Enforcement Administration officer.
"We make a big deal about it, because the lives of our students are a big deal," said Le Crisha Peyton Webb, a counselor at the school and one of several organizers of its Red Ribbon Week activities. "We’re not just concerned about the mind, but the body and spirit as well. It’s what we call a holistic education."
East Hall Middle’s theme for the week was "East Hall runs on respect." The systemwide theme was "Face it ... don’t fake it with drugs."
About 16,250 elementary school students and 7,230 middle schoolers in 42 area schools participated. This year the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County helped coordinate and contributed stickers, ribbons, souvenir cups and posters to the effort.
Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer called the week "an annual reminder of the responsibility we all have to keep our children safe and drug free."
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said the week has presented "an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the ideal of ensuring that our boys and girls have every opportunity to grow up drug free."