Malibu students experience ‘natural high’ during Red Ribbon Week

Inspiring kids to be happy and live a drug-free life is the inspiration behind what’s known as Red Ribbon Week.

Started in 1985 in response to the murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, the national Red Ribbon Week campaign raises awareness of the destruction caused by drug abuse in the United States. In the late ’80s we often heard the slogan “Just Say No.” At Malibu Middle and Malibu High School for this year’s campaign, students were encouraged to find their “natural highs.”

Karin Al-Hardan, who serves as the PTSA president for both schools, admits Red Ribbon Week hasn’t always been consistent in recent years; however, this year, as celebrated the last week in October, the theme of finding your “natural high” appears a big success. 

“It’s a heavy topic and the message coming from parents to kids, ‘Don’t do drugs,’ isn’t super effective,” she said. “Tying a red ribbon around things; wearing red and kitschy things like that don’t have a lot of impact.”

The mother of three explained this year the Red Ribbon organization partnered with another nonprofit called NaturalHigh.org that strives to promote drug-free and thriving lives for youth. 

“They lean into the positives in the power of embracing your natural highs,” Al-Hardan said. “So, the things you’re truly passionate about, things you love to do and how that can give you a rush of endorphins and a natural high as opposed to a drug or alcohol-induced high which has negative and detrimental effects.”

Students at MHS and MMS viewed anti-drug videos starring celebrities and sports stars. They also viewed a video explaining the science behind a natural high that can give mental benefits without the damage drug-induced highs cause. Discussions were held in classrooms too.

One of the most interesting pieces to emerge from the week was a word cloud — a computer-generated graphic that depicts what students stated were their natural highs. The activities listed in larger and bolder print were mentioned more often by students.

More reinforcement activities were held throughout the week, including a scavenger hunt on campus along with bringing in a chalk artist who created a three-dimensional artwork of the two school mascots. A shark and a manta ray were created during the week with the help of some of the students from the art department. The unusual artwork proved popular for students to post selfies on their Instagrams and other social media accounts. 

“This is not the parents lecturing at kids,” Al-Hardan said.

However, materials were sent home to parents for home discussions. Kids and families were encouraged to establish support networks consisting of “people you trust, you can go to if you run into problems or if you’re struggling with anything,” according to Al-Hardan. 

The Malibu mother said some of the kids who responded to the natural-high program were quite thoughtful about it. 

“You could tell it resonated with them,” Al-Hardan said. “To talk openly and comfortably about it was really meaningful.” 

Some parents also reported they used the resources provided to start family discussions.

Another focus of the week was to manage stress. One of the highlights was a sound bath provided by one of the parents. On Wednesday, the quad was set up for the students to get their Zen on for just a few minutes to learn a healthy way to relax.

The Malibu Boys & Girls Club’s Brent’s Club chapter for substance abuse prevention also asked students for commitments to live a drug free life. 

“The payoff at the end is a chance to get a scholarship for college,” Al-Hardan said. 

On Friday, a Halloween pep rally was held to cap the week off. Then eighth-graders distributed facts about the negative effects of drugs and illegal substances along with candy to share. It was called “random acts of classroom kindness.”

Al-Hardan thanked MHS Principal Patrick Miller and many other teachers and staff members for their support and partnership in making 2022’s Red Ribbon Week a success. 

Principal Miller said participating in sports, cheering on the Dodgers, and coaching his nephews’ youth baseball teams give him a natural high. 

He also said, “Family expectations and parental guidance are a key to having students grow up and make healthy choices, especially around drugs and alcohol.” 

On the heels of its success at MHS and MMS, the program may be expanded later to other schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

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