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City school celebrate Red Ribbon Week

This Red Ribbon Week, city schools are encouraging students to make healthy choices — and show off their spirit in the process.

Across the district, students are celebrating this year’s theme of “Drug Free Looks Like Me” with dress-up days and other activities and contests that encourage drug prevention and healthy well-being.

According to the national Red Ribbon Campaign’s website, this year’s theme was chosen because “it best describes how all of us must do our individual parts to keep our communities safe, healthy and drug free.”

The first nationwide Red Ribbon Campaign was organized by the National Family Partnership in 1985 in response to the murder of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. Following his murder, communities across the country began wearing red ribbons as a symbol of their commitment to raise awareness of the destructive impact of drugs.

Over time, the campaign has evolved from wearing ribbons to include week-long themes aimed at promoting healthy, drug-free communities.

Everyone is seeing red this week at Northwest Primary School, where faculty and staff have hung red banners and tablecloths from ceilings and walls, giving the school a rubescent glow.

“You cannot miss the fact that it’s Red Ribbon Week,” said Lindsey Etcheson, a program leader at the school.

This week has also featured several dress-up days, such as Sunglasses Day, with a message “to help shine your bright light,” and Backwards Day, which encourages students to turn their back on drugs.

On Thursday, students will dress in red and Friday, of course, will be Halloween themed.

Etcheson said the themes are designed to be inclusive.

“We try really intentionally to choose things that everyone can participate in, where they don’t necessarily have to go out and buy a costume or a specialty outfit,” she said.

On the educational side, Etcheson said teachers and staff are leading lessons with the kids every day in the classroom to educate them about how to be aware of their surroundings, stand up for themselves and how to say “no.”

While students at Northwest — which serves students in grades K-2 — aren’t likely to use drugs themselves, Etcheson noted that they still might encounter drugs and people who use drugs in their homes or neighborhoods.

“So we work really hard — in this school building here and in our district — to really focus on helping set up a good, lifelong foundation,” she said.

It’s the type of work that extends well beyond Red Ribbon Week.

Etcheson pointed to Northwest’s use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports — an evidence-based framework that uses behavioral interventions to enhance academic and social behavior outcomes for all students — as an example of the ongoing work being done.

“We’re constantly being proactive in trying to help kids make good choices and be aware of their surroundings and trying to teach them, from a very young age, the difference between right and wrong,” she said.

Part of that work includes STAR Student lessons, a weekly classroom lesson led by counselors and a school psychologist that focuses on different traits, such as honesty, integrity, character and trust. STAR is an acronym for “Show respect to oneself and others at all times, Treat others with kindness, Always be safe and Reach for the stars (do your best).”

“We’re well aware of the demographics of this area and just making sure that we can help our kids be the best they can be, and that they feel very valued and heard and nurtured through our school system here,” Etcheson said.

When classroom lessons prompt students to open up about issues they may be experiencing at home, she said administrators and onsite counselors are quick to intervene.

“If something bigger does come up like that, we have the best team in place to help take that to the next level and see if (the student does) need some resources and help with it,” she said. “It really is a whole team effort to take care of these kids and their families.”

Students at Rutland Intermediate School, celebrated “Heroes Day” on Wednesday as part of their Red Ribbon Week festivities.

“We had some staff and students dress up like superheroes while others picked heroic community or public figures,” Assistant Principal Megean Martin wrote in an email. “One of our students even picked our very own principal, Mrs. (Kerry) Coarse, to match today.”

Martin said RIS students will round out the week with a “Flannel Day” and a “Harvest Fest” on Friday in which the school community is invited to wear costumes and celebrate in a variety of fall-themed events.

At Rutland High School, Our Voices Exposed (OVX) — a student club that raises awareness about substance abuse — has organized this week’s Red Ribbon activities, which include dress-up days, OVX-branded gear giveaways and a door decorating contest.

Senior Riley Norton, who has been a member of OVX since seventh grade, said the club’s name is derived from students’ desire to make their voices heard on the issue of substance abuse.

“We want everyone to hear us about the effects of substance abuse and the toll it takes on not just high school bodies, but everyone’s body, and that it’s not worth it,” she said.

The club currently has 23 member, according to Norton.

Norton said she has noticed an increase in tobacco, alcohol and drug use among classmates during her time at RHS.

“This year is probably the worst year I’ve seen, personally, of drug abuse,” she said, describing students smoking in the school parking lot, vaping in bathrooms and smoking marijuana before school.

She said students tend to listen to OVX’s message when there’s free stuff involved so that’s been a strategy this week. The club has given out pens, lanyards, stickers, tumblers, as well as held a T-shirt toss at last weekend’s football game.

“If that’s the way we can reach them, then that’s the way we can reach them,” she said.


High on ARPA project list
City eyes ARPA money for land records

Digitizing land records is moving to the top of the city’s list of ARPA projects.

The proposal was at the top of the list offered by City Clerk Henry Heck, and Finance Committee Chair Sharon Davis said this week the main question is whether the city uses an estimated $173,000 of the $4.4 million in federal COVID stimulus to contract out the work or have it done in-house for closer to $60,000 to $80,000.

“I think there’ll be more discussion when it gets to the board level — is there a time frame that the board wants to wait,” Davis said.

Heck said digital land records go back to 2006, but title searches look at a 40-year span. He said he had two estimates for digitizing everything since 1981 — $173,000 and $232,000 — from contractors who indicated it would take three to six months. However, he said the city has access to the sort of software it would need to do the work in-house.

“My land records assistant went in yesterday and did two hours of uninterrupted work to kind of give me an idea,” he said. “We found this project would probably take about 18 months of a single individual working, maybe, a 30-hour work week.”

Heck said he guessed doing it that way would likely involve adding a temporary position in his office and would cost the city about $80,000.

“If I can do it for $80,000, you’ve got $93,000 you can use somewhere else,” he said. “I’m sure DPW can soak that up right away.”

Heck said the project would be a key part of bringing the city into the 21st century and could have prevented the access issues created when City Hall was closed to the public during the height of the pandemic.

“That basically shut down the house-buying business,” he said. “COVID changed a lot of things for good. ... A lot of remote businesses are kicking up. People are working from home. This is giving people the ability to sit in their fuzzy slippers by the fire and they can do their jobs.”

Once they are digitized, the question remains of how they are accessed. Board of Aldermen President Matthew Whitcomb said a look at the city website is also under discussion as an ARPA project.

“We have a new website that was largely built out, but it was never initiated, and I’m not sure why that was,” he said. “It’s in committee.”

Whitcomb said the Finance Committee has recommended the full board seek estimates on IT upgrades to the aldermanic chambers. Heck said this would include a hybrid remote meeting capability, but also acoustic improvements.

“A motorcycle drives by, you can’t hear a person talking,” Heck said. “It’s insane.”

Whitcomb said nothing had yet been crossed off the city’s potential project list, which includes a new gazebo at Main Street Park, water pipe replacement and new equipment at the fire department. Davis said the board was treading carefully as it waits for a better picture of how it is allowed to spend the money.

“There’s certainly a lot of money, but there’s only so much money,” she said. “There’s certainly going to be some debate with DPW. They could certainly use all the money. They’re not going to get all the money. Everyone wants to see a project done and paid for. I feel like we’re better to be cautious. ... My goal is to try to get a couple more (meetings) done, at least, in November. I think DPW and the rec are probably the largest and then we can do a couple together.”


Baxter Street community forms connections

Curtis Corse said Baxter Street has been a little quieter since the house across from him was raided.

“There’s less traffic,” Corse said Wednesday as he dodged shots from neighborhood kids armed with Nerf guns. “I’m still seeing people going in and out of there, but it’s less volume, and it doesn’t seem like the same people. ... It was a relief to find out they did the raid.”

Federal, state and local law enforcement raided 46 Baxter St. and another house around the corner — 146 Maple St. — late last week. Information available about the outcome of the raids is limited, but one person is facing a federal gun charge as a result and police said three women were found in a padlocked room in the Maple Street house and were being interviewed regarding human trafficking.

Corse, who had distributed the Nerf guns as part of a neighborhood meeting, said that latter detail had given him pause.

“That made me lose some sleep,” he said. “I have a teenage daughter, and I take that stuff very seriously.”

The meeting Wednesday was the fourth in a weekly series organized by resident Maria Davis and landlord Stephen Box. The meeting was not specifically about the raids. Davis said it wasn’t specifically about anything but trying to get members of the community talking.

“I have lots of ideas,” she said. “I like how Project VISION does their thing where people talk about things and then they break into groups. ... I’d like to get organized where it can be like that.”

With the air getting colder — something she suspected depressed turnout Wednesday — Davis said she was looking for an indoor location for the meetings. She said it would need to accommodate children like the ones running around the lawn where she was handing out food. Being able to bring and entertain children, she said, was a key to making sure child care wasn’t a barrier for anyone who might want to attend.

“It’s a way for everyone to feel like they have a chance to be heard,” she said.

Crime was one of the issues on which several people in the neighborhood said they needed to be heard.

“It’s been getting worse this year,” said Melissa Sills. “There’s needles at the bus stops. ... We want to get parents together, get street lights going, make it safer for kids.”

Box said he had reached out to the Rutland Redevelopment Authority and some individual members of the Board of Aldermen who lived in the neighborhood — the latter had a committee meeting that night — about attending without success. But he said he was less concerned with bringing in city government than he was in forging connections.

Box said a study of deaths in a heatwave in Chicago demonstrated the importance of building connections between neighbors. The deaths, he said, were clustered in “unconnected neighborhoods.”

“In connected neighborhoods, they check on each other in times of crisis,” he said.

Assistant City Schools Superintendent Rob Bliss showed up to talk to Davis about getting her the indoor space she was seeking. Bliss noted that the now-defunct Rutland United Neighborhoods met at the nearby Northwest Primary School.

“I’m going to look into it and see if it’s possible,” he said. “We’d love to help. This is a great community event.”

Bliss then paused to exchange Nerf gun fire with a little girl.

Gary Shaimas said he largely kept to himself but thought the gatherings were just what the neighborhood needed.

“With the laws we have today and the feeling in the air with politics and stuff, nobody wants to talk anymore,” he said. “We’ve got to get connection going. ... We can know what’s going in in our community if we sit and talk. We need the fellowship. This is great. I haven’t seen much of this in Rutland.”



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