FLORENCE- Dozens of families gathered to honor and celebrate students during the 2021 Anti-Drug Poster Contest Awards Ceremony Thursday night.
More than 750 sixth grade students submitted entries this year. Those submissions were whittled down to the top 40, who gathered for the awards ceremony where the top 3 winners were revealed.
"This is really about creativity and it's about fun," said County Attorney Kent Volkmer. "But what we really want to have happen is we want parents and loved ones...to have conversations with their kids."
The submissions came from students who attend schools all across Pinal County.
"It's my hope that this will be a conversation starter," Volkmer said.
The 31st Annual Anti-Drug Poster Contest is dedicated to the memory of Judge Robert Bean.
"What he realized 31 years ago is that sixth graders, even back then as they are today are facing...progression and maturity into, sort of, teenage years and into high school," Volkmer said. "As you progress, as you grow, you have choices to make."
While the event itself is a celebration of the students' achievement, Volkmer noted the serious issue at hand. He cited a rise in fentanyl cases, with 20% of all drug busts by law enforcement involving the opioid.
"[It] essentially gets you really high, makes you fall asleep and unfortunately if you overdose on it you fall asleep and you never wake up," Volkmer said, noting it is typically mixed into a pill. "You don't have to inject it, you don't have to smoke it, you don't have to take it any other way than just having a single pill that you swallow. You may think it's just a pill to have fun, you may think it's a pill that's just going to relax you, that you're stressed, that you need to calm down. But that pill could end up costing you your life."
The Anti-Drug Poster Contest allows students the chance to show off their creativity while crafting an anti-drug message.
"We get their families to come in, get their loved ones to come in, we get [a] great show from law enforcement that's here, we get to bring the kids up and talk about them and really shake their hands, congratulate them and truly celebrate them," Volkmer said.
The top 10 and top 3 selections are made by three Pinal County judges.
"It is as honest as we can make it," Volkmer joked. "Who better can we have to judge than our actual sitting judges?"
The third place winner’s poster will be placed on bookmarks, second place will be on spiral notebooks and the first place will be on t-shirts. All 40 students will receive one of each of those prizes. The first place winner’s class gets a field trip to Phoenix Science Center.
The winning poster this year was submitted by Savae Garcia from Casa Grande Middle School.
"I was like 'whoa' and then I just went up here with a big smile on my face," Garcia said about her reaction to being called as the winner.
Garcia's poster includes exquisite artwork with the phrase 'When it comes to drugs keep it moving.'
"I have a family member that's on drugs currently," she said. "I wanted her to stop because it took me away from her."
Garcia said she spent a couple hours a day over the course of several weeks creating and fine-tuning her poster.
"I'm very proud of myself," she said.
When asked what message she hopes other kids take away from her poster, she had a quick response.
"Don't do drugs, keep it moving," she said.
The top 10 posters will hang in the hallway for the next year in Pinal County Superior Court.
FIRST PLACE: Savae Garcia / Casa Grande Middle School
SECOND PLACE: Layla Perez / Eduprize
THIRD PLACE: Maria Elena Matus / Circle Cross Ranch