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Demonstrating for Peace at Schools

January 17, 1998|LIZ SEYMOUR

Embrace peace, oppose violence.

That's the message Orange County school districts advocated during Yellow Ribbon Week, which was observed the last five days as a way to promote school safety.

Activities included a game of musical chairs--with an educational twist--at Sierra Intermediate School in Santa Ana.

While students raced for their yellow-colored seats, they learned they could have fun without being aggressive, said Ligia Varela, an assistant principal at the school.

In Laguna Beach on Friday, Jesse Soto shared his tale of drug abuse and criminal activity, followed by a recovery that's lasted 12 years, with students at Thurston Middle School.

As a teen, Soto said he knew that drugs were wrong. But he couldn't escape gang life.

"I used to say, 'What a bunch of fools. What kind of high is that?' " Soto said. "Then I became a fool."

Soto, of Santa Ana, now works as a gang and violence prevention specialist at the Center for Drug-Free Communities, based in Irvine.

He talks about his experiences to teach students they must accept the consequences of the choices they make.

"I take this job very, very seriously," he said. "I had to pay for those consequences, but I'm very fortunate to be able to stand up here and be alive."

Thurston Middle School has avoided significant violence on its bluff-top campus, Principal Ron Lamotte said.

During his six-year tenure, students were caught bringing drugs to school just three times, he said.

But the problems of gangs and drugs touch everyone.

"It affects everything in your life, it can change your life," said Caryn Coblio, an eighth-grader at the school.

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