Pomp and circumstance wasn't exactly the mood at K-Beach Elementary School's first Drug Abuse Resistance Education graduation ceremonies on Wednesday.
As each sixth grader received a certificate and T-shirt from Soldotna Police Department Detective John Gregory, there was a chorus of cheers and hearty applause from school staff and faculty, other students and parents.
The 193 students in the sixth-grade classes of Shae Hollandsworth, Terri Carter and Robert Dover were part of Soldotna Police Department's first year in the nationwide program.
"You were my guinea pigs," Gregory told the K-Beach students.
Redoubt and Soldotna Elemen-tary schools also participated, but Gregory said K-Beach was always the first to hear his lessons.
"It takes special life skills to lead healthy, good, safe lives," Soldotna Chief of Police Shirley Warner told the assembled students.
"We'll be here to help you through the tough times," she said. "But what we are seeing is that you can help each other, too.
"This is a big deal," Warner said. "We're all proud of you. And we look forward to one of you one day taking Det. Gregory's place. Or my place. Or Mayor Lancaster's place."
Soldotna Mayor Ken Lancaster echoed Warner's pride in the students and also extended it to the police department for its role in the D.A.R.E. program.
"Be respectful. Be kind. Be positive. Be safe. Be a friend," Lancaster read from signs on the multipurpose room wall behind him. "And one day you will take our place. Keep it up."
Kenai Police Department and the Alaska State Troopers also are involved in D.A.R.E. programs throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Course work stresses decisions, pressures from a variety of sources and consequences.
According to Gregory, drugs are only mentioned in two of the 17 classes.
Students in the program also are required to write essays on the value of staying drug-free. Alyssa Giles, Katie Thornton and Justina Hamlin were K-Beach Elemen-tary's essay winners.
Gregory thanked teachers Hollandsworth, Carter and Dover for their assistance and flexibility.
"We tell the students it's good to have someone they can trust," Gregory told the teachers, as he presented them with T-shirts. "Your names were the first ones they mentioned."
LaDeanna Haynes, mother of sixth grader DeLynda Malatesta, praised the program.
"I was really impressed with the officer," she said, referring to Gregory. "The program is really wonderful. It made the students aware of drugs, the effects and what the drugs look like. And we had a lot of discussion at home, too."
After the graduation ceremony, Gregory said he already was planning on ways to make next year's program better.
Because of the success of this year's program and the positive feedback that has been received, Chief Warner said a second officer will be trained to help with the program for the upcoming school year.
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