Anti-drug program reinforcing substance abuse awareness

Cannon Air Force Base Emergency Medical Technician Brandi Pett talks about her job Tuesday with Ranchvale Elementary School sixth-graders for Red Ribbon Week. (Staff photo: Marlena Hartz)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Their hands shot up toward the ceiling. It seemed most of students in the classroom had a story to tell — a relative addicted to a drug, a parent who couldn’t quit smoking, the memory of a substance-abusing TV character.

The tales were spurred by a anti-drug presentation given Tuesday at Ranchvale Elementary School by a Cannon Air Force Base drug program director and a base emergency medical technician.

However, Ranchvale sixth-graders said the topic is far from new.

Ranchvale six-grader Austin Jodzko said he learned what drugs were at the age of 3 from a teacher. Fellow classmates said they learned about drugs at a similar age; it’s “everywhere,” said one student. Most elementary-aged students are indeed “quite aware of the dangers of doing drugs,” said Ronnie Warmuth, a civilian who heads the Drug Demand Deduction Program at Cannon.

Warmuth travels to local classrooms to remind children of dangers of doing drugs during the last week of October, designated Red Ribbon Week. To bring home the message, he usually invites along a professional who deals with drug abuse on a daily basis.

On Tuesday, he brought along Cannon EMT Brandi Pett, who showed awed Ranchvale students the stomach pump she and her colleagues use to purge poisonous drugs from the bodies of substance abusers. The device was passed from desk to desk. One student confessed his EMT aspirations; others silently listened to Pett’s first-hand accounts.

“The kids relate to many of the community members who come into the classroom (for Red Ribbon Week) — some they consider heroes, so they are more apt to listen to them than a teacher,” Ranchvale principal Suzanne Brockmeier said.

A host of drug education activities occur at Clovis schools during Red Ribbon Week.

The first nationwide Red Ribbon Campaign was organized by the National Family Partnership in 1998, according to a Texas Department of State Health Web site.

The ribbon is donned during the last week of October in memory of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officer who was tortured to death by members of a Mexican drug cartel, according to the Web site. Initiated by Camarena’s neighbors and friends, the campaign is now a “grassroots effort to protect children from the dangers of alcohol and other drugs,” the Web site said.

Tobacco is commonly included in drug education curriculums alongside drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine.

Ranchvale sixth-grader Kaitlyn Hardy told a more personal anecdote dealing with Red Ribbon Week

“My nana smokes. If I didn’t learn about this, then I might smoke when I grow up.”

Kaitlyn’s mother, Kelli Hardy, said her daughter often brings classroom lessons home.

“I have noticed that she talks about tobacco being bad and prescription drugs being bad. I think it’s really good that they are taught it’s not just the drugs on the street that can cause harm. It’s also drugs you can find in the your own home or in stores,” Kelli Hardy said.

While no U.S. public elementary school principals reported drug use as an issue among students in an ethics group survey, 36 percent of high school principals did identify it as a major issue, according to the Ethics Resource Center Web site.

It seems Ranchvale students are aware of their own, fleeting malleability.

Ranchvale Sixth-grader Ryan Dawsey said students his age need drug education “so in the future drugs might stop and the world will be a better place.”