FRANKCLAY — Emotions often ran deep during a special assembly held last week at which 70 West County Elementary School graduated from the D.A.R.E. program.
Long-time D.A.R.E. instructor, St. Francois County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Carver, leads the program each year at four local schools and holds graduation programs twice each school year.
D.A.R.E — which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education — is an international education program that seeks to prevent use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs and violent behavior by students. The program, has expanded globally since its founding in 1983, and is a demand-side drug control strategy of the U.S. War on Drugs.
Founded by Daryl F. Gates, students who enter the program sign a pledge not to use drugs or join gangs and are taught about the dangers of drug use in an interactive in-school curriculum lasting 10 weeks.
At the program’s conclusion D.A.R.E. students take part in a special assembly at which the students are honored for their work and each receives a certificate in a ceremony similar to a high school or college graduation.
Carver, a 15-year veteran of the program, said one of the high points of every assembly is the presentation of medallions to one student from each classroom who has been determined by their teachers to have written the top essay.
Several teachers said the decision to pick the best written essay wasn’t an easy one. In fact, at least one went to Carver seeking his help in making a final choice. He told the teacher it was going to be tough, but she would have to do it.
The students whose essays were chosen for special recognition at the assembly were Rebekka McSpadden, Jon Fox, Mikayla Sherrill and Chris Von Arx.
Officer Carver said that some students write from their personal experience with drug and alcohol abuse and bullying. Whatever subject the young people choose for their essay topic, Carver believes the most significant thing is that somewhere in the piece each student makes a commitment to remain drug-free.
“While there are some general guidelines for the essays, I encourage the students to be creative,” explained Carver. “They can write their essay on subjects such as what they’ve learned, what they’ve experienced and what they feel about it.”
Several of the students whose essays were read aloud by themselves or their teachers at Tuesday’s assembly graphically related the negative affects of family members’ misusing drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
“Some of the essays were written from personal experiences,” said Principal Todd Watson. “Unfortunately we have more students all the time that live with parents who are messed up with drugs and alcohol. I just hope that these kids don’t follow in their parents’ footsteps. I believe that Deputy Carver and the D.A.R.E. program helps students understand the dangers and consequences of that type of lifestyle.”
Kevin R. Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 114 or at email@example.com.