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Students get life lessons

D.A.R.E. safety buddy teaches SCV youth how to make proper decisions

Posted: October 20, 2009 10:06 p.m.
Updated: October 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Azriel Manalaysay, right, and Ivy Kim laugh alongside their second-grade classmates as "Retro Bill" presents serious life lessons in a humorous way at Rancho Pico Elementary school on Tuesday.

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High-demand motivational speaker “Retro Bill” sported an Elvis hairdo and a flame-print shirt and sneakers Tuesday as he used props to teach Pico Canyon Elementary School students how to live safe and healthy lifestyles.

“You have to stay on the positive channel,” the radio and television personality Bill Russ said as he pulled out a remote control and then an oversized calculator.

He next added his trademark “Oh yeah!” which drew giggles from his child audience.

The speaker, who talks to about a million American students a year, visited about 2,100 students at Pico Canyon and Stevenson Ranch elementary schools Tuesday in honor of “Red Ribbon Week,” a national campaign against drugs, alcohol, tobacco and violence.

Russ is the official Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., Safety Buddy and has hosted several national safety campaigns and events, according to his Web site.

The speaker used comical faces, voices and child impressions to touch on the dangers of drug abuse and bullying.

In one demonstration, Russ lugged around a large, red suitcase with white polka dots to demonstrate the baggage students carry when they don’t inform adults about problems. He next compared that to what happens when children do speak up as he pulled up the suitcase’s handle bars and effortlessly rolled it across the auditorium stage.

“The biggest problems still come with a handle on wheels,” he said.

He mentioned celebrities such as Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger, who died because of drug addiction, then playfully acted out ways students can say no to drugs or respond to teasing.

“He was very funny,” said third-grader Alex Merrill. “(I learned) to walk away when one person is doing something bad and you’re not supposed to do it.”

Principal Laura Banda said Retro Bill, who has visited the school once before, also helped students understand the importance of telling adults about problems.

“Particularly for the primary (students), sometimes students think they’re tattling,” Banda said. “He gave the difference between a small problem and a big problem and being an informer. That really helps.”

Russ, who has been a full-time motivational speaker for nearly 11 years, later said events from his own youth inspired him to speak out against drug abuse and bullying.

He said a bully tried to drown him as a child, causing him to drop out of his Boy Scouts troop. And when he was a teenager, two of his friends were killed in a head-on collision by another student who was driving under the influence, he said.

Russ said he started speaking to students because he wanted to give them a hip role model to look up to.

“Kids need heroes,” Russ said. “They need to have somebody that’s got cool hair, cool clothes and upbeat energy, but drives home a really wholesome message.”

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