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Sikeston fifth graders pledge to be drug-free, make positive choices

Posted Date: 05/09/2017

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Credit: Standard Democrat

Nearly 300 fifth graders at the Sikeston Fifth and Sixth Grade Center pledged to be drug-free and make positive life choices as they graduated from the district’s D.A.R.E. program Friday during a ceremony before teachers, parents and community members.
“I hope the students leave graduation with the feeling that they can be anything they want to be,” said Sikeston Department of Public Safety Officer Lorya Knox, who has served as the D.A.R.E. educator for Sikeston R-6 schools for the past 16 years. “So whatever that is, I hope it includes them being positive and respectful. If they can remember those two things — which are my two rules from first grade on — then they’re going to be OK.”
Before being individually awarded with certificates, the fifth graders put on a skit about saying no to drugs and making positive choices. They also watched a slideshow of themselves during D.A.R.E. activities.
“I meet with the fifth graders once a week for about five months, which is September through February, and then they graduate in May,” Knox said.
Founded in 1983 in Los Angeles, D.A.R.E. is now being implemented in 75 percent of the nation’s school districts and in more than 52 countries around the world.
D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives.
While many school districts offer D.A.R.E. only in fifth grade, in the Sikeston district, the D.A.R.E. program begins in first grade and runs through fifth grade.
“I get to build a rapport with the students,” Knox said, adding an elementary curriculum is used
The fifth graders write an essay and read it to Knox, who ultimately picks the top essays from each fifth grade class and also overall fifth grade.
During Friday’s graduation, Knox announced D.A.R.E. essay contest winners for the entire fifth grade. Overall winners were Nikki Gilmore, first place; Abigail Lutes, second place; Hailey Caton, third place; and Parker Sanders, honorable mention.
Each student read their essays aloud during the assembly and addressed the importance of making responsible choices, saying no to drugs and handling difficult situations as they grow up.
Through the years, the D.A.R.E. curriculum has modified to include other peer pressures in addition to drugs and alcohol. Cyberbullying is now also addressed in the D.A.R.E. program, Knox said.
“The ‘say no to drugs’ is almost at the back burner,” Knox said. “If you’re positive, respectful, follow the rules and don’t bully others, then you’re less likely to do drugs. It all goes hand-in-hand.”
Sikeston Fifth Grade Principal Sheila Branch agreed. If students don’t have the tools, they can’t make the best decisions for themselves.
“I think D.A.R.E. is the most essential program they need to be productive members of society,” Branch said.
The educators reminded the students D.A.R.E. graduation is just the beginning of them making positive decisions for themselves, and now they have the tools to do just that.
In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week, Sikeston DPS also surprised Knox with a bouquet of flowers and a gift.
Sikeston DPS Assistant Chief Jim McMillen expressed appreciation for Knox and all educators.
“There are about 300 kids in this class, and she’s been the D.A.R.E. educator for 16 years so you’re talking over 4,500 kids who she’s had a positive impact on their lives,” McMillen said of Knox. “She impacts those kids— just like a teacher does.”
It’s important police departments start with the youth and make a positive impact on the community, McMillen said.
“You have to start when their young. If we can do that, then we don’t see the problems as much when they get older,” McMillen said. “We need more programs like this reaching out to our youth to better our society.”