It would seem to be a plea that's hard to ignore. On Thursday, Ridge High School seniors received letters in their English classes from much-younger classmates, those in fifth grade, pleading with them not to drink, do drugs or drive while intoxicated before, during or after Friday night's prom.
The letters come from fifth graders in all of the township's four elementary schools, and are handed out to every senior, said Kathy Kelly, who fills multiple roles in the municipal health department, with the Bernards Township Municipal Alliance Against Substance Abuse and with the Ridge Against Drugs (R.A.D.) program.
The students receive a general assignment to ask seniors to stay safe, use good judgement and be aware that the elementary students are looking up to them, said Kelly, who herself graduated from Ridge in 2003.
Then they get some leeway to be creative, she said. "They draw pictures," she said of students who have been crafting their letters over the past month or so.
This is the third year that the students have written the letters, Kelly said.
In talking to the seniors who receive the missives, "I have heard a lot of great comments," Kelly said. "I think they were really touched."
The first year, the letters arrived unexpectedly. By now, the seniors are waiting for them, she said.
The township health department gave some background into the letter-writing campaign in a recent release.
The release quoted one letter, from a previous year's fifth grader at the Liberty Corner Elementary School:
“Dear Ridge Senior,
Please beware of prom and graduation weekend. You are my role model and I do not want anything to happen to you. If you are tempted to drink, say no! Alcohol is the cause of so many car crashes. Do not be in one of them. You are a one of a kind person and irreplaceable. Alcohol, drugs, and smoking will destroy your life, prom, and graduation. Don’t take them!”
After reading her letter, a Ridge High senior commented on the impact it had on her, saying "I thought it was a really cute idea, for both the fifth graders and high schoolers. Instead of us telling them not use drugs, they are telling us not to."
Kelly said she worked on that project with the police department's liasion for the elementary school D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, Police Officer Tracy Baldassare.
The municipal alliance and R.A.D. also have a network of senior activities and other programs aiming at discouraging substance abuse around the time of proms — and also high school graduation, Kelly said.
The municipal alliance's Project Graduation is a yearlong series of activities which provides drug and alcohol-free events and "promotes class cohesiveness" for Ridge High School seniors. The effort culminates in "The BASH," an all-night drug and alcohol-free celebration immediately following graduation celebration that is supervised by school personnel, parents, and community volunteers.
Another effort underway this year have been stickers reminding parents and others not to distribute alcohol to anyone under age 21 — part of the township's "It's 21 for a reason" campaign — for to-go containers at some area businesses, Kelly said. She said those who stop by during the season of proms and heading toward graduation can expect to see the stickers on to-go items from Siena's Gourmet Pizza, Bella's Burger Shack and at Brush's Delicatessen.