Story by Isaac Cox
Escalona Elementary School in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District made the headlines a few weeks ago after a very successful Red Ribbon Week. The campaign is an awareness and prevention movement against alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs and violence. Their drive to donate and give generously has put them at the forefront of community outreach and was outlined in the Whittier Daily News.
The Cotsen Foundation had a chance to catch up with Renee Ivy, a teacher and the Red Ribbon Week event coordinator. Below are edited excerpts from an interview with her.
Q: What did you do this year for Red Ribbon Week?
A: Monday the students dressed up as super heroes and we donated blood. Tuesday was sports day, so the students dressed up in sports uniforms and they donated new or gently used sports equipment. Wednesday was crazy hair day, so the students all had crazy hairstyles and we donated hair to Wigs for Kids. Thursday was hat day and they brought in new hats to donate to a charity called Heavenly Hats, which was for cancer patients. The organization was started by a 10-year-old boy and I thought the students could relate to it. Friday was our book character day, where the students dressed up as a book character and brought in new or gently used books to donate.
Q: How did you come up with meshing Red Ribbon Week with participating in donations like Wigs for Kids?
A: I think in the past our Red Ribbon Week was comprised of just dress up days with slogans, and then each day the students would get some kind of trinket, like a red pen or pencil or a piece of red licorice. I wanted to move away from these little trinkets and move toward students giving back to the community.
Q: What gave you the idea to donate to Wigs for Kids?
A: I tried to pair each dress-up day with ways of giving back to the community. I researched different charities online, and found Wigs for Kids. I was attracted to them because they don’t charge their patients for the wigs. Other organizations that I saw charge their patients for the wigs when you send them hair.
Q: Were you worried about requesting parents’ permission to cut children’s hair?
A: [Laughs] I mean it’s a little nerve racking for me but last year we cut three girls’ hair, and we had such a great response that the parents asked me if we were going to do it again. So, this year we had seven girls cut their hair in front of the whole school, and I already have girls waiting another year so that they can cut their hair for next year’s Red Ribbon Week.
Q: How much hair were you able to donate this year?
A: We donated a total of ten ponytails.
Q: There were hair stylists at your event. How did they get involved?
A: We have a teacher on staff who is a licensed hairstylist and does that on the side. I had a parent who also is licensed, and a former student who is licensed as well. I asked them if they would be willing to donate their time and come out and cut the girls’ hair.
Q: What challenges does a school face in sponsoring these types of Red Ribbon Week events?
A: I try to make the days approachable so that the parents don’t have to spend a lot of money for their kids to participate. Donating blood is free, donating your hair is free, so I try to make it easy to give without parents having to put out a lot of money. Hopefully it’s easier for the parents and not too much of a challenge. But our students are generous and supportive, and so are our parents.
Q: What would you say to teachers who want to go to that next step?
A: My hope is that other teachers will see this and try to emulate it on some level. Our Red Ribbon Week won a spotlight award last year from the California PTA, so we were invited to present our Red Ribbon Week activities at a workshop to let other schools know about the kinds of things we did. I think my advice to teachers and schools interested in taking that next step would be to start small, like with one donation day or two donation days and work your way up.