Chief Umtuch students plant tulips at Central Park

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Students from the Chief Umtuch Middle School DREAM team worked together with the City of Battle Ground and the Lewis River Rotary Club to beautify Central Park and Battle Ground High School on Wednesday, Oct. 28. A group of nine students, along with members of the Battle Ground Prevention Alliance and Lewis River Rotary Club, planted 200 red tulips at the park and high school as a part of the Red Ribbon Campaign, the oldest and longest drug prevention program in the United States. 

The Red Ribbon Campaign began in 1985 after a drug traffickers in Mexico City murdered United States Drug Enforcement Administration agent Kiki Camarena. Red Ribbon Week takes place from Oct. 23 to Oct. 31 and gives students and community members the opportunity to take a “visible stand against drugs.” 

Battle Ground Prevention Alliance Coalition Coordinator Jennifer Kirby said the color red is important to the campaign because red symbolizes “hope” and opportunity. Kirby sees the 200 tulips blooming next spring as a visible symbol of a second chance to talk about prevention. 

Along with the tulips, students from the DREAM team tied red ribbons around trees at the park and pinned inspiring notes such as “let your smile change the world” to the ribbons. 

As the prevention alliance coordinator, Kirby works with Battle Ground Public Schools and other community organizations in an effort to “start the conversation about drug prevention” and encourage families to have conversations with their kids. “We consider these kids (in the DREAM program) as our youth extension of our larger coalition,” Kirby said, mentioning that the coalition has members from Rocksolid Community Teen Center, Molina Healthcare and the Battle Ground Police Department. 

Blake Bowers, the health and fitness teacher at Chief Umtuch Middle School, also serves as the adviser for the DREAM program. When the program started nearly six years ago, advisers and community members worked with high school students about drug prevention. However, after working solely with older kids and teenagers, Bowers realized the prevention message needed to be given to kids sooner and started working with middle schoolers. He hopes to expand the program to other schools in the Battle Ground Public Schools district and create a mentor program at the high school. “We don’t want this (progress with students) to stop,” he said.

Joining the DREAM team is an extracurricular activity and students on the team are volunteers. Bridget Hopper, an eighth grader in the program, said she joined the team not only because she wanted to help others and spread the word about drug awareness, but because she thought it would be fun. “I like speaking to people and I like doing presentations,” Hopper said. “So far I’ve enjoyed it (the program).” 

Students in the program do much more than plant tulips at the park to spread awareness. Many students participate in the Washington State Prevention Summit, a yearly conference with students and community members about drug prevention. Normally, students would travel to Yakima to meet with students and community members in prevention programs across Washington State and give presentations on projects they’ve completed throughout the year. While in-person attendance has been canceled for the 2020 year due to the pandemic, Bowers and students on the DREAM team plan on attending a virtual summit. Students like Hopper give presentations about their efforts out in the community and with their peers to panels of people. 

Bowers touched on the program being more than just a drug prevention campaign and said the program gives kids “valuable leadership experience.” 

“Yes, we’re planting tulips, but the kids are also learning about service. They’re connecting with the Rotary Club and learning what the Rotary is and does,” Bowers said. “They’re learning that they’re not alone in this and a lot of people are doing good things and contributing in meaningful ways.” 

Service and getting involved with the community is a large aspect of the program. The Prevent Together Alliance has worked with the DREAM team to get involved in local and state politics. Last year, for Prevention Policy Day, students on the team met with state legislators to talk about the Tobacco 21 law and vaping bans.

Along with drug prevention, students in the DREAM program have worked to help kids in the Battle Ground Public Schools district cope with hard emotions during the pandemic. Earlier this month, kids in the program created “emoji cards” to put in the nearly 1000 lunch sacks handed out by the district each week. On the back of the card, students can read about how to deal with hard emotions such anxiety with tactics such as taking deep breaths, using positive self-talk or keeping a journal. 

“We do so much more than talk about drug prevention,” Kirby said. “This is an opportunity to teach kids how to make all around healthy choices in their lives.” 

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