COAL CITY — Coal City Intermediate School fourth and fifth graders danced, shouted and laughed while also hearing an important message Tuesday afternoon.
The group of more than 300 students gathered in the school gym for an interactive assembly held by speaker Mike Smith, a Gatlinburg, Tenn.-based speaker who travels across the country as part of his Kidz with Character assembly.
The assembly was part of the school's activities for Red Ribbon Week. CCIS Principal Tracy Carlson said Smith's visit had a message that fit well with the week.
"Red Ribbon Week's focus is on being drug and alcohol free and making good choices in your school and community," she said.
Carlson said the assembly was covered by funds raised by the Parent Student Organization, or PSO, and was held in addition to different theme days for students to dress up for, like "Give Drugs the Slip," where they were able to wear slippers to class.
In the middle of a presentation that included plenty of silliness, from movement and calls and responses, Smith touched on how to be students of character, about choosing to respect others and acting in a responsible, reliable and trustworthy manner.
He said he had a chance to observe students throughout the school and said they were among the best group of children he's visited.
"You are not ordinary, everyday, average kids," he said. "When I look around the room, I see kids of character."
Smith also encouraged the kids to dream big, noting that in the room were future doctors, teachers and scientists, and to not let others or bad decisions become obstacles to their future.
"You guys can do anything you put your mind to," he said.
Matthew Wieringa, a fourth grader at the intermediate school, said he thought the assembly was awesome. He was selected to join Smith at the front of his peers as Smith demonstrated responsibility, deeming him "Responsible Matthew."
Smith had Matthew extend his arm, with his index finger up, then pulled out spinning plates to spin one on Matthew's finger, later handing him two poles spinning the plates.
He said he was nervous up in front of everyone, and handling the plates.
"I thought it was going to fall and break," he said.
Fifth-grade teacher Betsy Stahler said Smith was able to be fun and surprising, as well as able to hold students' attention.
"I think he got the point across because he did get their attention," she said.
She said Red Ribbon Week, along with curriculum that handles drug and alcohol use, are key in getting ahead of future problems.
"I think it's a great program and it's important," she said. "I hope as they get older, we'll see less problems with drugs and alcohol."
Tony Wilkinson, principal at Shabbona Middle School, said students are taking part in similar days tied to messages.
Each day this week, students are participating in theme days. Monday, students wore their shirts inside out for the message "Don't let drugs turn you inside out," and Tuesday, students donated cans of food for We Care of Grundy County as part of "We CAN make a difference." Students' homerooms are competing against each other to win a breakfast.
"The whole goal is to have as many of our kids, hopefully all of them, be alcohol and drug free, and make healthy choices throughout their lives," he said.
Wilkinson said the messages are being streamed into classrooms through the announcements and teachers are also incorporating them in their lessons.
"We're trying to get them thinking about what are the positive choices you can make in these different situations," he said.