By Joel Hall
A sea of more than 500 students in red attire descended onto the Riverdale Elementary School athletic field on Wednesday. Waving signs, pushing floats, and wearing colorful hats, they all demonstrated their commitment to staying drug free.
The students' Red Ribbon Parade was a part of the school's observance of Red Ribbon Week, a national campaign aimed at alerting young people to the dangers of alcohol, drugs, and other illegal substances.
April Madden, principal of Riverdale Elementary for the last four years, said the school has observed Red Ribbon Week for several years, but the parade was the first in recent memory. "This year, we wanted to take it to another level," Madden said. "We wanted this to be a big community event, so the community knows how we feel about being drug free," she said. "We decided to get out here with the band and make some noise, so the children could really celebrate their decision to make good choices."
The parade circled the school's property, with Riverdale High School's marching band and "Raiderettes" dance team providing musical and visual entertainment. Teachers, parents, members of Riverdale's clergy, and the city's Fire Department helped coordinate the march, and lead students in the singing of "Drug Free Me."
The Red Ribbon Campaign is the nation's oldest and largest drug prevention program. It was started shortly after the death of U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Enriqué "Kiki" Camarena, who, on Feb. 7, 1985, was kidnapped, brutally tortured, and murdered by Mexican drug traffickers.
William Brooks, a fifth-grade teacher at Riverdale Elementary, said events like the Red Ribbon Parade help young students understand the consequences of drug use.
"They may not use them [drugs], but they may see it in their communities," Brooks said. "They may see it being sold and they know the effects of them. Being at this young age and getting them familiar to the dangers, they will be less likely to use them."
Jim Carlise, president of the Riverdale Elementary Parent Teacher Association, applauded the participation of parents in the parade. "Parents set the example," Carlise said. "A lot of parents came to volunteer. [Through parental participation], it's reinforce at home and school that drugs are not for them."
Madden said Riverdale Elementary was one of several schools in the county observing Red Ribbon Week. She believes the parade is a way to help students avoid drug use later in life. "Anytime you put it into a real-life event, it puts it into perspective," she said. "We made our floats, we made a pledge [not to do drugs] and we marched. Hopefully, all these things will set the foundation."
Meanwhile, other schools have announced plans to celebrate Red Ribbon Week with large events scheduled to take place today and Friday.
· On Thursday morning [today], the Clayton County Head Start Program will host a Red Ribbon Celebration, featuring games and educational information for parents, at Head Start's West Street Center, located at 4914 West Street in Forest Park.
· At Lovejoy High School, at least 75 students are expected to release red balloons on the school's front lawn at 2:15 p.m., on Friday, in an event organized by the school's Parent-Teacher Student Association.
· Nearby Hawthorne Elementary School will host a "Be a Red 'Jean'-ius! Say No to Drugs Day" pep rally on Friday afternoon. All students are expected to wear red clothing, and share anti-drug poems, essays, music and dances that they created during the week. Lovejoy High School's marching band is scheduled to perform at the pep rally.
Staff writer Curt Yeomans contributed to this article.