- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Students at Howard Road Academy in Southeast yesterday presented a case to parents, teachers, charter school board members and White House drug czar John P. Walters as to why teenagers and adults should avoid drug use.

“I can make smart decisions and not use drugs by participating in school activities, such as after-school programs and playing sports,” said Ray Stewart, one of six students selected to read their essays during the 45-minute Red Ribbon Week program.

Red Ribbon Week, from Oct. 23 to 31, is observed at schools across the country to reinforce the Drug Enforcement Administration’s effort to reduce demand for drugs through prevention and education programs. The program also commemorates the death of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena, who was slain by drug traffickers in 1985.

The students donned red ribbons emblazoned with the motto: “Too Cool to do Drugs,” and made presentations addressing the pitfalls of drug use. They embraced the antidrug message and eloquently expressed their opposition to drug and alcohol use in their oral presentations on “How I can Make Smart Decisions and Not do Drugs.”

Ray, 11, wrote in his essay, “Drugs can hurt and most of the time can kill people. Drugs are not healthy for your body unless your doctor prescribed the medicine. Over the years, drugs have destroyed children. There is a lot of peer pressure in the world. Drugs can make a person lose their mind.”

The studious-looking boy, who lives in Northeast, said he is not worried about being influenced to use drugs and has some good advice for anyone who wants to experiment with them.

Another student, fifth-grader Shiloh Plexico, listed activities children can do in place of drug use.

“You can play an instrument, a sport, a character in a play or board games so that you don’t get bored and do drugs. Listen to your parents. They know what they’re talking about. They were kids once too. They’re smart and know about this stuff,” she said.

Shiloh, 10, also pointed out the tragic results of drug use. She said drugs can turn a user violent or cause an overdose.

Mr. Walters complimented the students on their well-documented papers and their poise before an audience of about 100. He applauded parents for taking time out of their busy day to acknowledge the messages and show their support.

“Congratulations to those who wrote essays and made posters, examples of keeping yourselves safe. Thank you for letting me spend a little time with you. [Parents] supervise you and make sure you are in safe places — and that’s one of the kindest acts they can do for you. Now, you’ve learned lessons on how to keep others safe,” Mr. Walters said with a smile.

LaTonya Henderson, principal of the charter school, gave Mr. Walters a tour of the three-story building after the program. She said she and her staff are committed to activities that focus on the Red Ribbon campaign message against drug and alcohol use.

Ms. Henderson said antidrug activities in classes will continue throughout the month to assure parents that the school is committed to creating a drug-free community.

Chester Fagan, a behavioral intervention specialist and one of two coordinators of the Red Ribbon program, said such events are important.

“The whole family [dynamic] has changed as a result of substance abuse. I think of the difference in schools today. The family has broken down due to substance abuse and it’s important to educate children so they do not go down the same road,” he said.

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