Forty-two fifth graders graduated from DARE at Hilltop School March 29, as parents and grandparents looked on.
DARE stands for Drug Awareness Resistance Education. This is the fourth school year the program has been offered to Williams County fifth graders.
The course is taught by Deputy Paul McCord of the Williams County Sheriff’s Office. McCord came to West Unity once a week for 11 weeks to the ach the 45-minute class.
The students spent a long time receiving instruction on how to make good decisions and strategies to thwart offers to do drugs, drink alcohol or smoke tobacco. They were required to write an essay and the four best were brought up front to read theirs to the audience.
McCord said the essays were so well written it was hard to select a winner.
The essays dealt mostly with a fact learned in class (cigarettes have 200 chemicals) or ways to beat stress. The strategies ranged from taking a nap to playing basketball or sewing.
Superintendent Larry Long opened the ceremonies with a heart-felt talk on the importance of DARE and how parents, grandparents and the community need to band together to support the students.
From the local community up through the state, there is a terrible drug problem afflicting the people, Long said. Sooner or later that problem will have to be addressed, he said.
“Unfortunately that’s probably not going to be the case,” Long said.
The message needs to be constantly shared. Many still don’t want to accept the truth: “The drug problem is real,” Long said.
Long talked about the reality of drugs in the county when related the news that a teenager in the Edgerton community had taken their life. The loss of someone so young is frightening when thinking about the potential joys that were sacrificed.
While many will ask why, Long encouraging the students to go to an adult if they are having troubles.
For McCord DARE is a relatively new experience. Five years ago there was no DARE program and he didn’t have DARE growing up.
Sheriff Steve Towns introduced the program into Williams County five years ago after a lengthy hiatus, McCord said. When the sheriff asked for names, McCord put his name in the hat.
The challenges of today’s youth are vastly different from when today’s parents and grandparents were growing up. The new DARE program reflects those changes, McCord said.
DARE began in Williams County in 1983 and ran strong for 20 years, McCord said. The foundation laid in that initial phase is still felt today. Due to retirements and staff cuts, the program vanished in 2008.
After a five-year drought, local leaders began to ask about restarting the program.
“Mr. Long and a lot of the leaders in the county are realizing we’re facing a lot of issues out there,” McCord said. “Drug issues and other issues.”
It is supported financially through local community donations.
“I am not saying we are going to solve all the other issues, but DARE is a good tool to have in the schools.”
Hilltop had 42 students, but across all the public schools and two private schools, there were about 500 students involved this year, McCord said. The changes in approach have been a result of the internet’s influence in society, he said.
“We are spending 11 lessons on how to make better decisions, how to recognize and handle stresses,” McCord said. “And the challenges that will confront them, whether it be peer pressure, the drugs that are out there, whatever it will be.”
Since it has come back, DARE has been taught to 2,500 students in the county, McCord said. Of those communities, West Unity is one of the best, he said.
Other officials in attendance were West Unity Police Chief JR Jones and Mayor Peg Bernath.
Bernath told the audience about her work as a volunteer for EMS. She encouraged the students to talk to someone when they are in trouble.
She shared a story of being out on a run when they came to a house where a teenage girl had tried to overdose on pills. The crew radioed central dispatch about the situation and learned there was nothing they could do except let the girl ride out the drug’s effects.
The girl had grabbed her legs and screamed she was going to die, Bernath said. So they all had to stay there as watched the girl ride out the storm, she said.
Bernath applauded the students for coming up with interesting strategies to relieve stress.
“Taking a nap works every time,” Bernath said. “Find someone you can talk to.”
The students lined up to receive their certificates by class, with Dan Hurd’s class going first and Michelle Steffes following.