Public Papers

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Drug-Free Schools Awards


Thank you, Secretary Cavazos. Mr. Vice President, students, parents, teachers, and friends: Welcome to the White House, the steamy Rose Garden. [Laughter] We're delighted you're here. I thought long and hard about what to say today, how to talk about the importance of drug education and prevention, and of how we can save our schools and our children from drugs. And then I read the judges' reports about this year's Drug-Free Schools Award winners, and these reports were simply incredible. So, today I'd like to just tell some American stories, stories about drug-free schools and, really, some American heroes.

Let's start with Spingarn High School, right here in Washington, DC. Spingarn is in one of Washington's worst drug areas -- a tough area -- and one teacher said: ``Five years ago, teachers were afraid to go out in the hall between classes. There's no fear here now.'' One man, a teacher named Frank Parks, saw the drug

dealers in the hallways, the expensive clothes; he smelled the marijuana in the bathrooms and the locker rooms. So, he started Operation SAND -- Student Activities, Not Drugs -- and recruited popular athletes as peer counselors. And he set up these ``rap rooms'' for kids to confidentially talk about the drug problems. And he founded a program that worked; he found answers. And he's here today, and despite the fact that his office was bombed a year ago. And I'm told he and his wife are available 24 hours a day for the kids, as they have been for years. And I hope that the students will be lucky enough to have him for years to come. Mr. Parks, thank you, and congratulations.

And next, let me tell you about St. John the Baptist School in Brooklyn, New York. Here's what one of the judges who visited the school wrote: ``This school is a total drug-free oasis in a sea of crack dealers. This crusade to be a beacon of hope in a neighborhood of burned-out buildings and frequent killings is taken with serious risk. The school is almost the last liferaft available to families whose neighborhood peace and quiet has been overturned by the violence of alcohol and drugs. And if this school is not a model of a drug-free school, then no such model exists.''

But keeping their school drug free was not enough for the St. John's students. They've asked Mayor Koch to deliver the neighborhood a drug-free community -- to declare it a drug-free community, telling him about the crack houses and of the horror and despair they see during breaks. Drug dealers recently broke into the office of Sister Mary Jane Raeihle, the principal, ransacking it, breaking into the safe where the school's money is kept. But they left the money on her desk as a warning, as a message to the school to stop its activities, but St. John's has not stopped. And just last week, during graduation practice, the brave nuns stood between the drug dealers and the children to protect them as they marched to the church. Sister Raeihle says: ``We're very proud of the children. Even the little ones know what it's all about, which is a shame. We have good will and kids with a lot of hope. It's so hard for them, and they have so much hope.'' God bless you, Sister, and God bless the children.

Roosevelt Vocational School, from Lake Wales, Florida -- local police say this school is ``sitting in the middle of a drug supermarket.'' The students there are ``high-risk'' for drug use, many with difficult disabilities. And yet some ride 2 and 3 hours to get to Roosevelt. Let me tell you why: Less than 10 years ago, only 10 percent of Roosevelt's graduates got and held jobs. But students soon realized that in order to get the jobs they'd been trained for, they had to be drug free. So, they looked to the Kennedy Space Center which you can see from the school windows, and adopted the motto, ``Aiming for the Highest.'' And they kicked drugs out of the school, stopped feeling sorry for themselves, turned their attention to others who needed help, adopting a local family whose father has Lou Gehrig's disease and raising thousands of dollars to help them make ends meet -- and now 75 percent of the students are employed after graduation. And they aimed for the highest and made it, and they're here today, too.

In fact, I heard a story about the principal, Harold Maready, who made a bet with the students during Red Ribbon Week, when students who are drug free wear red ribbons and clothes. He bet them that if at least half the school wore red -- that is, were drug free -- he'd paint his bald head with the words ``Just Say No.'' Well, 225 out of 295 showed up in red -- [laughter] -- and guess what happened? I wore this red ribbon today and this red tie because I think Mr. Maready had a great idea, and I'm looking for Marlin Fitzwater [the President's Press Secretary] here somewhere. [Laughter]

Finally, a story from out West -- Live Oak, California, is a small town that started as a railroad stop serving ranchers. The residents fill only five pages of the phone book -- one traffic light; no hospital; no jail -- just a drugstore, a few restaurants, a post office. A quiet, small town? No, not at all. Drugs arrived over the border, brought by transient workers. This county is now one of California's major producers of methamphetamines and a major contact area for drugs arriving from Mexico. The drugs got into the school and things went downhill fast. And during the last 4 years, however, this school developed a drug-free education program that is gradually influencing the face of the entire community. Students, parents, business leaders, and teachers came together and changed it from what we used to call the three R's to the four R's: respect, responsibility, recognition, and recreation.

And what made the difference was a temporary principal, Mrs. Paulla McIntire, assigned to the school for 4 months in 1985. Temporary -- she's still there. [Laughter] And one judge called her ``the visionary dynamo behind the progress'' at one of the most overwhelmed and understaffed schools around. She and a teacher, Michael Dahl, beat the odds by ``vision, no-nonsense leadership, compassion, and professional expertise.'' Mrs. McIntire and Mr. Dahl, thank you for making the trip today, all this way, and thank you for a job so well done.

As I look around here today, I see some of the top commandos in the war on drugs: our teachers, principals, community leaders, parents, and students. You're the ones winning this war because you are the ones looking to tomorrow. You're the ones who know that it takes a clear mind to get a good education and lead a productive life. You understand that students have a right to learn in drug-free schools. And I know that school's out for the summer, but there's one last lesson all America can learn from the courage and commitment and, yes, the downright stubbornness of each of these heroes here today who never gave up: Every school in this country can win; every school in this country can be safe and drug free. Thank you, and God bless you all, and congratulations!

And now I'd like to welcome the students that are here from each school and join the Vice President and Secretary Cavazos in presenting these awards, or at least shaking hands before you get to the main event -- the award from our great Secretary of Education. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:04 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.