Graduating from D.A.R.E. is more than knowing that drugs and alcohol are bad.
The certificate students receive after completing the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program is a pledge to make good choices in all aspects of their lives.
On Monday and Tuesday night, around 450 fifth-graders from Seymour Community Schools and area parochial schools took that pledge in front of their families, teachers and classmates in the Seymour High School auditorium.
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The annual D.A.R.E. graduation ceremonies are a big deal.
Graduates get to walk across the stage, shake hands with Police Chief Bill Abbott, D.A.R.E. officers Gilbert Carpenter and Tim Toborg and Mayor Craig Luedeman and get high-fives from a line of high school D.A.R.E. role models.
Lane Bledsoe, a fifth-grader at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School, said he is glad to have completed the D.A.R.E. curriculum, which included 10 weeks of classroom instruction.
“I think it will show me the right thing to do for situations involving drugs, bullies and the internet,” he said. “I think by having D.A.R.E., I can make a better choice and I can help others.”
Shawn Wilson, also a student at Brown, said he learned how to avoid peer pressure through D.A.R.E. Most kids his age don’t do drugs and alcohol, but it can become a problem for kids in middle school and high school, he added.
“We learned that 400,000 kids die in America each year from drugs and alcohol,” he said.
Students are taught to use the D.A.R.E. model when making decisions. The four-step process includes D for define the situation; A for assess; R for respond; and E for evaluate.
Shawn said one way to avoid peer pressure to drink or smoke is to suggest another activity.
“If someone would say, ‘Hey, you want a cigarette?’ you say, ‘No, let’s go play ball instead,’” he said.
D.A.R.E. 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.
As part of D.A.R.E., students write an essay, and winners are chosen from each class with three top overall winners selected from the class winners.
The second- and third-place winners of this year’s contest were Denibe Lara from Margaret R. Brown Elementary and Rayna Murphy from Emerson Elementary.
First place has not been announced because the winner is from St. Ambrose Catholic School. That school’s D.A.R.E. graduation is Jan. 13.
Both Denibe and Rayna read their essays in front of the crowd.
Denibe said there are lots of reasons why people, especially kids, shouldn’t do drugs.
“First, you can die, and you get a lot of other things like memory loss and loss of self-control,” she said. “Your teeth will start turning yellow, and you can get mouth cancer. So if I were you, I wouldn’t do drugs.”
In her essay, Rayna said she learned many lessons being in D.A.R.E. and that it will help her live a better life.
“My dream is to compete in the Olympics and win,” she said. “I’d never be able to do this if I took tobacco or alcohol. I don’t want drugs to get in the way of my dream. Now, I know that I’ll make better choices in life. Nothing can get in my way of reaching my goal.”