Ecker Hill students say ‘yes’ to Red Ribbon Week, ‘no’ to drugs |

Ecker Hill students say ‘yes’ to Red Ribbon Week, ‘no’ to drugs

Johnna Roussos and Becky Broadhead, two of the organizers of Ecker Hill Middle School’s Red Ribbon Week, started with one important assumption: For these students, the danger is no longer theoretical.

Perhaps when they were in elementary school, it was a "what if." What if I get offered drugs one day? What if one day I end up at a party with alcohol? But for students in middle school, the threat of drugs and alcohol is a real one.

It’s a reality that Roussos and Broadhead hoped to hammer home this week as Ecker Hill Middle School kicked off its Red Ribbon Week, an annual campaign focused on drug, tobacco and alcohol awareness.

"It’s a great opportunity for us to really talk to the kids about drug prevention and the kinds of things they’re facing like the peer pressure that’s out there for all of them," Roussos said. "We do it in a really fun, cool way so the kids have a good memory of the way we are teaching it."

The week began with an assembly Monday in which school resource officer Zagg Taylor and members of the Park City Fire District spoke about the importance of Red Ribbon Week and drug awareness. The schedule for the rest of the week was full of other activities to keep students engaged and open to hearing the message.

"Kids learn better by interacting and participating," Roussos said. "That’s really how their brains work. So for them to learn a message as they’re playing the games, it just sticks in their minds. It’s really important."

Broadhead added that middle school-aged students have a lot of questions about drugs and alcohol, so getting them as much accurate, age-appropriate information as possible is crucial.

"My goal is I want kids to come to middle school and say, ‘Ecker Hill Middle School really nailed it when it came to Red Ribbon Week,’" Broadhead said. "I want it to be a big deal. Because what it’s all about is a big deal. And they look forward to Red Ribbon Week because we make it a big deal. We make them as engaged as possible."

One of the biggest temptations facing middle school students is one that didn’t even exist until a few years ago. Roussos said that usage of e-cigarettes by students, both nationally and in Utah, is climbing each year. And e-cigarettes, which are marketed as being a safe alternative to regular cigarettes — drug awareness groups and early research remain dubious — have shown up on Park City campuses in the past.

"I just recently went to the Utah Substance Abuse Conference, and e-cigarettes are growing by 200 percent," Roussos. "So this is an absolutely crucial age that we talk to these kids. These students are definitely at risk, but luckily we haven’t seen it this year, so we’re happy about that. But there’s a lot of curiosity around e-cigarettes."

Jack Goodman, a student who was wearing a New York Jets jersey for Monday’s "Team up Against Alcohol and Drugs Day," said kids throughout the school were excited about Red Ribbon Week, himself included.

"I like it," he said. "I like the decorations that we put up all over the school. That’s one of the best parts. And I think pretty much everyone in the school likes Red Ribbon Week, too. I think it’s pretty important because if you do drugs, then you’re not going to be able to do as well in life."

Broadhead hopes every student is as receptive to the event goal as Goodman. She said it’s tough to know how many lives are changed because of successful drug and alcohol awareness campaigns, but even one life justifies putting as much effort into Red Ribbon Week as possible.

"If we can save one life or one overdose, we have done our job," Broadhead said. "And there’s approximately 800 students here, so we have a lot of kids we can impact. We hope the message just spreads and they keep the knowledge they learn."