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Q & A with North Atlanta High School parent Vernetta Head

What is your role at North Atlanta High School?

I’m a parent in the PTSA at North Atlanta High School where my son is now a senior. I’ve been a PTSA member for four years and serve as the Drug Awareness chair.

Why did you apply to become a Red Ribbon Certified School?

My dad worked for Atlanta Public Schools for 35 years and a lot of that time was spent in what some would call an ‘inner city’ school.  As a result, I met a lot of his students and heard a lot about what was happening in the schools.  At some point he became responsible for the APS Drug-Free Schools program and at home we started calling him ‘Drug Czar’ because of that immense responsibility.  So you can see that I come by it honestly.

When I was in college, a classmate of mine was using drugs. I had to make the difficult decision to call her parents so they could get her help. I thought I’d lost a friend, but when I ran into her several years later she thanked me for saving her life. 

Everyone has been impacted by drugs or drug use in some way, even if it’s not their immediate family.  As a parent, it was important for me to do all I could to help my son and his peers be aware of the dangers of drug use and how to support each other in saying ‘No’. I couldn’t think of a better way than by becoming a Red Ribbon Certified School.

What drug awareness activities did you coordinate at North Atlanta High School?

We coordinated three big events, but we also did a lot of smaller things that were just as impactful. The smaller things, like morning announcements, were more under the radar but I believe the information we provided will help our students make informed decisions in the future. Some teens are going to experiment with substance use. There is a big difference between experimenting when you have information and experimenting without information. We try to provide as much information as possible.

We hosted a Red Ribbon Experience during Red Ribbon Week as one of our larger events. The local fire department did an accident simulation; a 911 operator did a simulated call related to a drug overdose; and a parent who lost their child to an overdose spoke with the students.

What is your favorite memory from the past year’s drug awareness activities?

During Red Ribbon Week, we set up a table in the cafeteria at lunch time, gave out candy and pledge cards. We also had a large pledge banner that students could sign. Our football team ran through the banner to kick off the game that evening.

I believe this event was successful because we didn’t force the students to participate. They were able to stop by and sign a pledge if they chose to.  This activity showed us that the students actually were listening to the message.

What was the Red Ribbon Certified School application process like?

It was challenging until I spoke to a school administrator and found the right resources to get the information I needed for the application. I learned a lot about our school in the process from active shooter drills to available resources to help our community in any given situation.

North Atlanta High School is the first school in the state of Georgia to become Red Ribbon Certified.

This is only the beginning for us. Now that I understand how to apply, I plan to get the middle school and the six elementary schools in our cluster Red Ribbon Certified as well and then spread it to the rest of our system.  My hope is that within two to three years all schools in the Atlanta Public Schools system will be certified.

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