Apollo Elementary School pulls some strings to host big Red Ribbon Week

November 3, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

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Ultimately, the topic at hand was serious.

But even the adults in the crowd outside Apollo Elementary School Oct. 5 seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Asked before and after whether they liked the show local law enforcement put on in front of the school, the answers from the students were predictable, “cool” and “fun” being the most common comments. One youngster obviously took one of the messages of the day to heart, warning his friends not to talk or give their names to a reporter, who was, after all, a stranger to them.

Representatives of the King County Sheriff’s Office greet students outside Apollo Elementary School. By Tom Corrigan

Representatives of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the King County Sheriff’s Office and Eastside Fire & Rescue were all on hand to help the students of Apollo mark Red Ribbon Week, which runs Oct. 23-31.

Safety personnel showed up in full gear, including a hazmat suit strongly resembling a spacesuit. To much cheering, a DEA helicopter made several low-flying passes over the school.

The school-front performance further included appearances from McGruff the Crime Dog and Badge Man, a man-sized DEA badge. Still, easily most popular among the mascots was the Seattle Seahawks’ Blitz. The latter showed the first two costumed characters — along with one or two lucky audience members — how to dance.

With its healthy-lifestyle, anti-drug message, Red Ribbon Week gets attention at plenty of schools, including those in the Issaquah School District. Still, no one else is liable to get quite the show that Apollo did. How did the school end up with such an event?

“They asked,” DEA Public Information Officer Jodie Underwood said.

“We’ve got connections,” added Apollo Principal Susan Mundell. “The kids loved it. I’ve got some great feedback from teachers.”

The Seattle DEA office partners with other law enforcement and safety personnel to put on one or two big shows each year for Red Ribbon Week, started to honor a slain DEA agent.

“What happens is, the word of mouth starts to spread,” Underwood said regarding the major display of law enforcement.

This year, the DEA and its partners actually will bring out the big trucks and the helicopter three times.

“It’s fun but it’s educational,” Underwood added.

Red Ribbon Week is held in memory of Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, an 11-year DEA veteran assigned to a unit in Mexico. On Feb. 7, 1985, he was kidnapped, tortured and eventually murdered by Mexican drug traffickers. Shortly after his death, a childhood friend of Camarena launched Camarena Clubs in the agent’s hometown in California. Member pledges to lead drug-free lives were delivered to then-First Lady Nancy Reagan. In 1988, the National Family Partnership launched Red Ribbon Week nationwide in Camarena’s honor. The NFP estimates some 80 million people now take part in Red Ribbon events each year.

“It’s just taken on a life of its own,” Underwood said.

While the helicopter, the dancing Seahawk and motorcycles might have gotten the attention of students, Mundell said the more serious message of Red Ribbon Week got through. She said many Apollo teachers put together lesson plans around the event or held discussions about health and drug issues with their students. In many cases, Mundell said those discussions turned out to be student led. Underwood said it’s perfectly appropriate to take an anti-drug message to an elementary school — that children are never too young to hear that message.

“This is the time when you want to start talking to kids,” she said, adding children of elementary school age tend to be very impressionable.

“I think it’s pertinent,” said Mundell, especially referring to her older students.

She said many teachers had students think and talk about making healthy lifestyle choices, not so much emphasizing an anti-drug message.

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