Celebrities break it down around Red Ribbon Week

When he was eight years old, Dartanyon Crockett had the equivalent of a ton of bricks hit him on his head.

He was growing up in Cleveland, and had just lost his mother. His whole world fell apart.

But falling back on the support of his father wasn’t an option. His father was a drug addict.

To make matters more trying, if that was possible, Dartanyon also faced another challenge. He happened to be legally blind.

Yet, somehow, against all odds, this little boy went on. And on he went, in a big way. Crockett became a competitive judo wrestler. On Team USA, he medaled at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London. Not stopping there, he then medaled again at the 2016 games in Rio.

It is celebrity stories like these, showing resilience at its very best, that the nonprofit Natural High makes available for free to middle school educators looking to inspire students during and after Red Ribbon Week. This year’s week of Halloween includes Red Ribbon Week, when teachers nationally will be focusing students on drug prevention.

Today, the United States opioid epidemic is at an all-time high. Incredibly, opioid overdoses are even driving a decline in U.S. life expectancy, according to recent CDC news. Because nine out of 10 addictions begin in the teenage years, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, this is of educator concern, and puts us in the position to make a difference.

Increasingly, teachers are harnessing the voices of celebrities who young people look up to, tied to ‘natural high’ life skills curriculum, to halt this trend in the early years.

‘Natural highs’ refer to the rush of adrenaline and dopamine you can get naturally through sports, art, the environment or otherwise — without the high price-tag of your wellbeing, or even your life.

For Dartanyon, life itself changed during high school. Winning at wrestling, as he says, helped him “win at life.”

Dartanyon joins 40 more celebrities — like professional surfer Bethany Hamilton, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, and professional dancer Chelsie Hightower — who bring stories of connection, resilience and perseverance directly to students through Natural High’s free curriculum.

Research shows that if young people discover their passions and are directly engaged in a compelling way by people they look up to and trust, they are more likely to make positive life choices and much less likely to choose drugs and alcohol.

In Natural High’s suggested Red Ribbon Week curricular plan, along with five celebrity videos, teachers get free Common Core-aligned curriculum to launch students deeply into discussions about critical life skills. Areas include: resilience in the face of peer pressure, assessing how good they are at building relationships, learning how to get the support of others, and even taking a Drug & Alcohol IQ quiz.

“I have taught for 25 years and the Natural High videos are real and reach the kids,” says Jamie Armin, a teacher at Massachusetts’ Tantasqua Regional Junior High. “The discussions that follow are very powerful.”

Hear Dartanyon tell you in his own words exactly what it was that saved him from going down the path his father did. You, your students, and the generations that should follow them — after they have led long, healthy lives — will be glad you did.

  • Gina Morris, executive director, Natural High, 2015 Winner: Red Ribbon Outstanding Prevention Program Award. Morris previously taught elementary and middle school in the San Francisco Bay area, and was a curriculum director at Stanford University.
Dartanyon Crockett