ST. GEORGE — Students at an Iron County elementary school had a few new classmates during the annual Red Ribbon Week.
Red Ribbon Week is observed nationally and began in 1985 after DEA Federal Agent Enrique Camarena was killed while attempting to stop drug traffickers, and since then, the red ribbon has become the symbol for the war against drugs. The week is meant to educate students on drug abuse awareness.
“Most elementary schools celebrate Red Ribbon Week in one way or another,” Escalante Valley Principal Allison Drake said.
Escalante Valley Elementary’s goal was to help students develop an appreciation for first responders, emergency personnel and law enforcement. Throughout the week, the school was visited by a number of different agencies, learning the role each plays as well as getting to know first responders from each department.
In past years, students would participate in assemblies where a K9 unit would attack an officer in a padded uniform, but when the students were asked what else they could remember, it was evident students didn’t have a strong idea of what each agency did.
“In speaking with a local EMS, he said that it seems that there’s been a decline in more recent years of young adults wanting to join or volunteer for services, such as EMS, firefighting, that kind of thing,” Drake said. “Part of the reason we wanted to spotlight it this way was to get students excited about the potential of becoming something like this down the road.”
In a statement, Thomas Cluff, an emergency medical technician and firefighter for the Beryl and Newcastle Volunteer Fire Departments, said 85% of the nation’s fire departments are made of volunteers, and the number of volunteers has significantly decreased over the past 10 years.
He also said departments often don’t have enough volunteers to respond to an emergency.
“We want to show the children the reward of volunteering, and build trust with them, in order to secure the future of emergency services in rural communities,” Cluff said.
In order to help the students better understand the different volunteer agencies, the school invited first responders and local members of the Armed Forces to have lunch with the students each day. Students shared their lunch period with members of local fire departments, emergency medical services and service men and women beginning on Tuesday.
In order to include all students regardless of their family’s income, the school opted not to participate in more common spirit day activities, like crazy hair day or wearing a costume to school. Instead, students were asked to wear specific colors each day to honor the different agencies, including blue and white, black and blue, camouflage and red and black.
On Tuesday, four EMS first responders had lunch with students before hosting the annual K9 unit demonstration. The following day, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office handed out police badge stickers and spoke with students about their day-to-day.
Local privates of the National Guard also visited the school on Thursday to eat lunch with the students before playing kickball with fourth and fifth-grade students. Finally, on Friday, the fire department visited the school, bringing Smokey the Bear with them to discuss fire safety.
“It was neat because, especially law enforcement, not every child has a positive experience necessarily with the law enforcement,” Drake said. “Having a situation like this creates more of a positive setting for the kids to recognize.”
Altogether, seven agencies visited the elementary school, including the Beryl Fire Department, Newcastle Fire Department, Enterprise Fire Department, Gold Cross Ambulance, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office and the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
Intermountain Healthcare Life Flight also conducted a Landing Zone Training on the school’s grassy field, allowing the students to take a closer look into the helicopter once it landed. The landing was also used to help IHC first responders get a better understanding of how long it would take to get to Beryl and where they could land in the event of an emergency.
Continuing with tradition, the school also held its annual coloring contest, putting a new spin on the grand prizes. For fourth, fifth and sixth-grade, first-place winners, the local fire department drove them home in a fire engine.
Drake said she is particularly appreciative of the volunteers who “already give so much of their time,” but who gave more by taking a moment to engage with Beryl students and make a positive difference.
“This is the most memorable Red Ribbon Week I think I’ll ever have,” she said. “I don’t know how we could ever top this.”
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