COVINGTON - High school graduation isn't until May, but many students in Newton County already are participating in graduation ceremonies.
So far this school year, fifth-grade students from six of the 13 Newton County public elementary schools have graduated from Newton County's DARE - Drug Abuse Resistance Education - program. Students from the other seven elementary schools will take the 10-week course and graduate before the end of the school year.
The program, in its 18th year in Newton County, teaches students about drugs and how to resist them, either now or in the future. Officers from the Covington Police Department and the Newton County Sheriff's Office come to the schools once a week for 10 weeks to lecture to students and have them complete a workbook and write an essay.
"The main focus is preparing them for changes in the middle school, which is where the peer pressure is more intense ... with students saying who's cool and not cool," said CPD Lt. Paul Dailey Jr., who has taught the class since it started in Newton County in 1990. "In the '90s, we would talk about drugs, but now we talk more about peer pressure and how to avoid making mistakes. ... It's OK for them to make a mistake, but they need to move on and learn from it."
He said officers discuss how students should choose their friends, make decisions, and resist drugs and violence, and tell students about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other "starter drugs. ... They can progress to more serious drugs later in life," Dailey said.
Officers answer confidential questions from the classroom "DARE box" and talk to students in private if they request, and they also tell the students about real-life situations they've encountered to try to deter them away from that negative lifestyle.
"The lessons are being taught by experienced police officers," Dailey said. "They have seen what drugs and violence can do."
Dailey said he believes the program is an effective one in Newton County.
"Over the last 18 years, I've seen a lot of my students, and some are teachers now," he said. "At one of the graduations, I had two of my former students come up to me and say, 'You were my DARE officer.' It's great."
This year, Newton County's DARE program will only be taught to fifth-graders, instead of to fifth- and seventh-graders as it has in the past.
"We are focusing on the elementary schools now. ... This is a great age to teach the kids and influence them the right way," Dailey said. "We will do a three-lesson follow-up with the seventh-graders by visiting them and talking to them in their middle schools (this year)."
They also work with the teachers and parents to get them to reinforce the same lessons to the students that they hear in the DARE classes.
Once students complete the 10-week class, along with a workbook and essay, they will have a graduation to celebrate what they have learned. DARE officers also give awards for the Outstanding DARE Student and Outstanding Self-Esteem Student.
"It's a little work they have to do ... but we make sure they have fun," Dailey said.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
DARE Decision-Making Model
· Determine the problem.
· Assess the problem.
· Respond to the situation.
· Evaluate your decision.