Sixth-graders at aren’t afraid to say no. As a matter of fact, they say it loud and clear: “No to drugs, yes to life!”
That message resonated through the Murray Avenue School cafeteria during the D.A.R.E. Graduation Ceremony last Thursday. More than 180 sixth-graders completed the semester-long D.A.R.E. program, which is a cooperative effort between the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, Montgomery County Commissioners and schools.
D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is a preventative program whose goal is to equip youth with skills for resisting peer pressure to experiment with tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. The D.A.R.E. program uses a Deputy Sheriff to teach a formal curriculum to students. The lessons focus on providing accurate information about alcohol and drugs while teaching students decision-making skills and providing them with ideas for alternatives to drug use.
By targeting youth, the program seeks to prevent adolescent substance abuse by teaching lessons that focus on providing skills for recognizing and resisting social pressures to experiment with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs; enhancing self-esteem; teaching positive alternatives to substance use; and developing skills in decision making, and building interpersonal and communication skills.
The graduation ceremony featured students reading essays and performing skits, which highlighted the ways they learned to take a stand against drugs.
“We have to make good choices in our every day lives. …Drugs are no good and can only lead to making the wrong choices. They can only control you if you let them,” said sixth-grade essay reader, Jose Gibbens. “D.A.R.E. taught us that that drugs are not the answer.”
Deputy Charles Wagg, who taught the weekly lessons at Murray Avenue, left the students with a message by reading “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten,” encouraging them to stand together. Students presented Deputy Wagg with a T-shirt bearing the school’s motto, “Courage: Stand up, Step up, Speak up,” signed by the students.
For essay-reader Michael Abraham, “living a drug-free life is the key to being successful.”
Lower Moreland Township Commissioner and parent, Denise Kuritz spoke to students, encouraging them to “keep the tools (you have learned through D.A.R.E.) in your toolbox as you go through seventh and eighth grade and all the way through high school. As you travel those years, be mindful of everything you’ve learned through DARE and remember what Officer Wagg has taught you. And be mindful of the company you keep.”
The message was quite clear to sixth-grader Michael Kavka, “in D.A.R.E. I’ve learned to say away from drugs like a bat stays away from daylight.”
Hanah Buczaki added, “D.A.R.E. is a wake up call. There are many different pressures in life such as media; peer, family and you give your self pressure.”
According to the Montgomery County Sheriff Department’s website, results of studies regarding program effectiveness show that D.A.R.E. students, when compared with to those who had not D.A.R.E., indicated significantly lower substance use since graduation from sixth grade. Moreover, when asked to imagine friends pressuring them to use drugs or alcohol, these students were significantly more likely to decline the offer. D.A.R.E. students were also more likely to use effective refusal strategies emphasized by the D.A.R.E. curriculum. These studies also found substantial evidence that D.A.R.E. students experience increased self-esteem and improved attitudes toward law enforcement personnel.
D.A.R.E. was developed in 1983 as a cooperative effort by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District. DARE provides special attention to fifth and sixth grade students to prepare them for entry into middle/junior high school, where they are most likely to encounter pressures to use drugs.
Editor's note: I was an essay winner at the D.A.R.E assembly when I graduated in 1996. My original certificate and essay can be viewed above with the rest of the pictures.