Jared Vance, a freshman at Juneau-Douglas High School, wobbled slightly as he reached out to grasp an orange traffic cone that wasn’t quite where he thought it was.
“It’s confusing,” said Vance of his temporary visual impairment: a pair of Fatal Vision goggles intended to simulate the distortion that can be brought on by alcohol inebriation.
After crawling unsteadily from cone to cone in a zig-zag pattern, as another student used a stopwatch on her cell phone to time him, Vance got to his feet and removed the goggles.
“I’m a little bit dizzy,” Vance admitted. “It was interesting. I wouldn’t really want to do this if I couldn’t take them off, that’s for sure.”
Vance was one of about 20 high school students who took time out of their lunch hour to participate in a “Drunk Goggles Relay Race” in the JDHS gymnasium Thursday.
Schools across Juneau this week are marking Red Ribbon Week, which raises awareness of drug and alcohol use, with a series of events intended to get students thinking about the negative consequences of substance abuse.
“It’s an opportunity for us to make sure we’re getting the publicity out, if you will, as far as the negative impacts of (drug use),” explained JDHS Principal Ryan Alsup.
Bob Swanson, drug and alcohol counselor at JDHS, watched students in the gym try to shoot baskets while wearing the goggles Thursday. He admitted that the event has only a “short-term” effect in preventing drug use, but he said the broader point is to showcase “an anti-drug sentiment in the community” to students.
“It’s a week out of 52 weeks in the year, so logically, it doesn’t have a huge shelf life, but it does acknowledge that we can do activities that are healthy, without having drugs or alcohol involved, and making it fun,” Swanson said. “We don’t need chemical recreation.”
Although not all that many kids turned out for the relay event on Thursday, freshman Harrison Bibb expressed enthusiasm about the Red Ribbon Week events. He said he volunteered to help with the activities in order to earn community service hours.
“I love it,” said Bibb. “I think it’s really cool.”
Another ninth-grade volunteer, Joyce Cabrigas, added, “It just teaches you, don’t do alcohol and don’t do drugs.”
For many students, drug use leads to a slide in academic performance, Swanson said.
“It’s probably the biggest detriment to academic success that we know of,” Swanson remarked. “You look at kids that abuse substances, historically, their grades are lower, their attendance is more sparse. Yeah, they have truancy issues, tend to have ‘minor consuming’ legal issues. … It tends to defocus you from your academic endeavors.”
Elementary and middle schools in the Juneau School District also marked Red Ribbon Week with their own events.
Dancers Against Drugs, a group of elementary and middle school students led by dance instructor Janice D. Holst, performed several routines set to anti-drug songs at Harborview Elementary School, Riverbend Elementary School and Floyd Dryden Middle School Thursday.
“We need to stick together and fight for what’s right,” Holst told the students at Floyd Dryden, packed into the school’s gymnasium for an assembly. “Don’t do drugs, O.K.?”
Holst indicated the two-letter word printed in large black font on her red Dancers Against Drugs sweatshirt. She said, “I’m sure you all can read this word, so can I hear it loud and clear?”
“‘No!’” the students bellowed lustily.
“That was pretty good,” Holst said. “But I think — we just came from Riverbend and they were amazing. One, two, three —”
“‘NO!’” the students screamed.
“All right, well, that’s the way to get the message across,” said Holst, satisfied.
Floyd Dryden counselor Jenny Alsup, who is married to JDHS’ Ryan Alsup, said she would like to think that Red Ribbon Week is mostly for the benefit of middle- and high-school students, but of the substance use it aims to deter, she said, “Things are happening younger and younger.”
Alsup added, “If we can help catch them before they have to be faced with those choices or as they’re being faced with those choices … if we can help them make better choices for their lives … then we’re doing a good job.”
To help get Floyd Dryden students more involved with Red Ribbon Week, the school administration made it a “Spirit Week” as well, delegating some of the activities for a group of students to plan.
“My personal feeling is that it’s really important just to have the awareness out there,” Alsup said.
That, Holst said, is the point that she hopes her Dancers Against Drugs are getting across.
“It just shows that dancers can deliver a message, and it’s good to be healthy and in shape,” said Holst. She added, “Dancers have brains, and we don’t do drugs.”
Red Ribbon Week was organized in the 1980s, after the abduction and murder of Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena of the Drug Enforcement Administration. It is observed every October in communities across the United States.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.