October 23, 2017

D.A.R.E. to Have Fun

Posted on April 15, 2015 by in Florida, Hometown

Dancing to YMCA

From Highlands Today.

Photo: Students dance along to “YMCA” as California Toe Jam performs at the D.A.R.E. graduation celebration for the county’s fifth grade students on Thursday. Credit: RYAN PELHAM.

AVON PARK – It was an occasion where elementary school pupils weren’t only encouraged to make noise, they were asked to make enough noise so students in classes outside could hear them.

That was part of the purposes of the gathering of about 1,000 fifth-graders from Highlands County elementary schools: to have fun and to commit to becoming “drug-free” for life.

From 9:30 to 11 a.m. Thursday inside the South Florida State College University Center Auditorium, the annual D.A.R.E. Day Celebration was held, bringing together law enforcement officers, school administrators, teachers and an abundance of excited students together.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) is an international substance abuse prevention-education program aimed at preventing use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs and violent behavior among children and teenagers. Students who join the program sign a pledge not to use drugs or join gangs and are taught by local law enforcement officers about the dangers of recreational drug use through a 10-week interactive curriculum. Thursday’s event was the culmination of the program for Highlands County’s fifth graders.

With the aura of a festive rock concert or variety show, the event was emceed by Highlands County Sheriff’s Deputy Ross Porter. From the stage, he got the children fired up about staying off illicit drugs, keeping out of gangs or getting involved with violence, staying in school and focusing on their career and life goals.

At the beginning of the show, Porter challenged pupils from each of the nine public and two private schools represented to scream as loud as they possibly could as he took “roll call.”

“I want everyone outside to know the Highlands County D.A.R.E. class had a great time so when they drive by on (U.S.) 27, they say, ‘What is that?’” he said. “We’re teaching you how to become good friends. All of you are a team, just remember that.”

Since starting in Highlands County in 1993, an estimated 22,000 children have gone through the program, said Nell Hays, Highlands County Sheriff’s Office public information officer.

According to the D.A.R.E. website, 36 million children around the world – about 26 million in the U.S. – are part of the program and it is implemented in 75 percent of the U.S. school districts and 43 countries around the world.

Thursday’s celebration featured skits by D.A.R.E. Role Models, high school students who act as mentors for the program; a “Bad Boys Skit” put on by Highlands County sheriff’s deputies featuring a drug deal and an undercover officer; a D.A.R.E. cheer routine by the Sebring High School cheerleaders; and solo vocal performances by Sebring high sophomore Nala Price, who sang two pop songs, and retired sheriff’s deputy Andy Spires, who sang a medley of classic American patriotic songs.

In addition, Sebring’s Toe Jam Band got the audience dancing and singing from their seats with classics like Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” and The Isley Brothers “Shout” and there were short skits by about 45 D.A.R.E. Rode Model members.

But under the roar of the children, the beat of music and illumination of colored lights, the real message teachers, law enforcement personnel and school staffs hoped the youngsters were getting was that they had the power to stay off illicit or illegal drugs.

As he walked around the auditorium with a microphone, Dustin Woods – lead pastor of Grace Bible Church, Sebring – asked some youngsters what they would like to do as an occupation later in life. Some of the responses included pediatrician, police officer, veterinarian, disc jockey, scientist and a “mom.” After each response, the kids were encouraged to holler: “We believe in you!”

“I double-dog dare you to make become a difference maker,” Woods said to the crowd. “If you’re going to reach your dreams, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication.”

The drug-free, positive reenforcement event ended with the Spires crooning “God Bless America” and final words of wisdom from Porter: “You’re going to make the right decisions and help each other make the right decisions.”

As children and their teachers made their ways from the auditorium, Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chief Mark Schrader said another goal of D.A.R.E, is to foster positive interactions between children and law enforcement that would carry over into their adult lives. Seven School Resource Officers (SRO) also attended the event.

“The SROs have a calling to help the youth. That is the reason we serve,” he said. “It’s nice to be around people that give us a reason to service our community.”