Lessons in saying no
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent October 24, 2013 11:14AM
Portage fourth- and fifth-graders release balloons Oct. 21 outside Portage City Hall for Red Ribbon Week. | Post-Tribune photo
For more on the Porter County Substance Abuse Council, go to www.portercountysac.org.
Updated: November 26, 2013 6:11AM
These students got the message.
A red balloon release and cookies decorated for Red Ribbon Week just reinforced a message delivered by Portage Mayor Jim Snyder, as well as Police Chief Troy Williams, that drugs were the wrong choice to make.
About 140 Portage elementary school fourth- and fifth-graders attended the kickoff, held Oct. 21 outside Portage City Hall. The week, celebrated by schools across the county and the nation, encourages a drug-free lifestyle.
“It’s to not do drugs and live your life without them,” said Jaden Polen, 10, a fifth-grader at Aylesworth Elementary School. Red Ribbon Week is important, he added, “because drugs will break down your body.”
Fellow Aylesworth classmate Haley Lawrence, 11, concurred.
“Drugs aren’t a good thing to do at all. They could make you sick and pass away. It’s good for people not to use them,” she said.
Though this was the first year the event was held in Portage instead of Valparaiso, it typically includes Portage students. Jessica Niebel, a fifth-grade teacher at Aylesworth, said the program sends students off to middle school with a positive message.
“I think this is a really big transition year for them. Going into middle school, a lot of pressures are directed at them,” she said.
With a show of hands, the students shared their future goals, to be a nurse or a doctor, a teacher, a baseball or basketball player, a cheerleader.
Jackie Sterling, Red Ribbon chair for the Porter County Substance Abuse Council, told the students that drugs are a poison that would prevent them from reaching those goals.
“We want to be the best that we can be,” she said. “We don’t want you to lose that potential.”
Portage has been at the forefront of fighting drugs in Porter County, Snyder said, a fight led by Williams, who first tackled a drug problem in the schools when he served as a school resource officer.
“We don’t want them in Portage at all. We want them to be gone for good,” Snyder said.
Williams said he’s seen what drugs can do to people, and lost a friend to drugs.
“You have to have the strength inside you and the courage to say no. You don’t want to put poison in your body that can hurt or kill you,” he said.