Being involved in the D.A.R.E. program is a highlight for fifth-grade students at all schools in Seymour.

Since the beginning of the school year, those students have spent an hour each week with local police officers learning how to resist peer pressure, say no to drugs, alcohol and tobacco, prevent bullying and make other good decisions in their lives.

On Wednesday night, more than 300 fifth-graders completed Seymour’s D.A.R.E. program, receiving their “diplomas” and special recognition during a graduation ceremony in the Seymour High School auditorium. Participating schools were Immanuel Lutheran and Emerson, Margaret R. Brown and Seymour-Jackson elementary schools.

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Parents, grandparents and other family members and friends packed the event, showing their pride in and support of the students.

A program Monday night honored DARE graduates from Cortland and Seymour-Redding elementary schools, Sauers Lutheran and Seymour Christian Academy. Students at St. Ambrose Catholic School will have their ceremony later.

In all, about 450 students from Seymour schools will graduate from DARE this year.

Seymour Police Department DARE officers Gilbert Carpenter and Tim Toborg spent the past 10 weeks in classrooms, sharing the D.A.R.E. message and teaching kids how to use the program’s decision-making model.

In order to make good decisions, Carpenter said, students must first Define the problem or situation, Assess their options, Respond by making a choice using what information they have and Evaluate their decision.

DARE, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, has been taught in Seymour since 1999. The program also is taught at schools in Brownstown, Crothersville and Medora.

It is completely funded through donations from local businesses and individuals. Donations help purchase program materials and pay for special activities and T-shirts for all participants.

Sam Beavers, a student in Tracy Stam’s fifth-grade class at Immanuel, said all kids should find their inner superhero by resisting drugs and violence. But he said he learned much more from his D.A.R.E. officer than just the importance of saying no.

“They teach you how to stop bullying and what signs of stress look like,” he said. “They teach confident communication. You can learn a lot in DARE.”

Sam was chosen as his class’s essay winner and learned Wednesday he was the third-place overall winner. After being in DARE, Sam said, he plans to remain drug free.

“If you stay away from them you will lead a happy, healthy life,” he said. “Drugs hurt you and mess up your brain.”

The same can be said for alcohol and tobacco products, he added.

“Alcohol slows down your mind and makes you do things you don’t want to do,” he said. “You also need to stay away from chewable tobacco, e-cigarettes, cigars and most of all, cigarettes.”

Sam hasn’t had to use the DARE decision-making model yet, but he said he likely will find himself in a situation or face a major problem in high school where he will.

“If a situation ever does come up about drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and bullying, I will use what I learned to figure out the problem and tell responsible adults about it,” he said. “If a situation does come up, I will be quick to act.”

Madison Jaynes, a student in Lois Bryden’s class at Redding, said she already knew she should never do drugs before being in D.A.R.E., but the classes taught her why it’s important to say no.

Her essay also was chosen as her class’s top entry, and she won second place overall. The first-place overall winner will be announced after all schools have graduated.

Using drugs is not worth all of the bad things that can happen and all that you can lose, Madison said.

“Drugs take away things like your money and your house,” she said. “When you are addicted to drugs, all your time and money goes to them.”

Madison said she also learned from her D.A.R.E. officer the difference between reporting a bully and tattling and why bullying is never OK, “even if your friend is the one bullying.”

She added, “Tattling is just telling on someone to get them into trouble.”

Another important lesson students are taught in DARE is good citizenship, Madison added.

“Being a good citizen is where you help someone who is in need,” she said. She chose her Big Sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program as an example of a good citizen.

Part of being a good citizen is having empathy for others, which is also part of the DARE curriculum.

Madison said she learned a lot from DARE this year, and it has helped her be a better person.

“I always try my best to see good in all people,” she said. “(DARE) also taught us to be confident in ourselves and our decisions. We learned about responsibility too … and to have a good attitude.”

All of those lessons are ones Madison said she will remember her entire life.

Also during the graduation ceremonies, the Seymour DARE role models were introduced. They are high school students who have pledged to remain drug, alcohol and tobacco free and who serve as good examples and mentors in all that they do.

The 50 students come from Seymour and Trinity Lutheran high schools and assisted Carpenter and Toborg in the classrooms.

Carpenter said this year’s DARE classes were a great group of kids to work with and, now that the “hard work” is over, they will be rewarded for making good decisions.

In January, DARE graduates are treated to a bowling lock-in, and in the spring, they take a field trip to tour local law enforcement agencies and a hike and picnic at Jackson-Washington State Forest in Brownstown.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.