Students DARE to just say no

Sixty-six Kenai students from Mountain View Elementary School received diplomas which confirmed their commitment to “just say no” to drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.

Fifth-grade students from Martine Dikes, Renee Christensen and Rebecca Walker’s class at Mountain View graduated from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program Thursday at a ceremony in the Kenai school gym.

DARE instructor Alex Prins, an officer with the Kenai Police Department, said the purpose of the program is to help kids develop live skills and decision making through lessons that arise in daily situations. The 10-week course not only teaches kids the dangers of drugs, but also teaches kids how to make good decisions, he said.

“Our society needs people that know how to make better decisions,” he said. “Being able to work with the school district and share teaching tools with the kids, it’s a great place to start.”

Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said fifth-grade students on the verge of entering middle school are at the age when peer pressure plays a ‘significant role’ in their lives. Since the course is taught once a week, for one hour a day, in each fifth-grade class, he said it is important that the parents continue to DARE message at home.

The Kenai Police Department has been involved with teaching the DARE program within the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for more than 20 years, Sandahl said. Next month, Kenai Police Officer Paul Cushman will begin teaching DARE to fifth-graders at Kaleidoscope School of Arts & Sciences with their graduation set for May, he said.

Prins said the Kenai Elks Lodge has been a major supporter of the program and would not be possible without their contributions.

The support of the teachers and school staff for allowing him the time to come in has been tremendous, he said. Dikes, a fifth-grade teacher at Mountain View, said the DARE program has great potential to make a positive impact for the entire community. She said the school is working on getting the kids to understand how to problem solve and DARE helps with that.

“The kids are at an age with a lot of peer pressure and things happening in the world with the things they see on TV, they are not always making good choices,” she said. “Adults don’t always make good decisions. If you don’t learn now you’re not going to learn when you turn 18.”

Dikes said having a police officer in the classroom interacting with them has a positive influence with the kids, rather than only dealing with police when in trouble. When Officer Prins leaves the class to go on a call she tells the kids, somebody probably made a poor decision.

Prins, in his third year teaching DARE, previously worked as a teen probation officer in Florida. He said his experience has made him comfortable talking with young people.

“As a probation officer I would help get kids out of trouble,” he said. “The difference in DARE is I get the opportunity to keep kids out of trouble in the first place.”

During the graduation ceremony, students from classes performed skits to demonstrate how to make sound decision making despite peer pressure. Sitting in three rows in front of the stage, each class wore a different style DARE T-shirt.

Every student needed to write a DARE essay in order to graduate. Two students from each class were selected to read their essay. Andrea Beile, from Mrs. Christensen’s class, Rain Spotted-Eagle Wong, from Mrs. Dikes and Kaya Cox, from Mrs. Walker’s class presented to the fourth grade class earlier in the day. Kristi Anderson, Herald Ochea and Madeline Edelen read their essays at the graduation ceremony.

Ochea said DARE taught him to be a good communicator. He said he doesn’t want to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol because he wants to be healthy.

Catherine Kaminski, from Mrs. Christensen’s class, said she learned a lot of valuable lessons from DARE. She said she enjoyed performing on stage. In her scene, she faced peer pressure from a friend who was offering her beer at a party, but she stayed strong and said no.

“It is important to help people out with their lives and avoid drugs, she said.

Kenai Police Sgt. Jay Sjorgen said the department’s involvement with the community starts through the DARE program.

“It’s setting a good foundation for kids to make the right choices in life and have a positive future because of it, “he said.

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com

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