One hundred-fifty fifth-graders walked across the stage to receive their diplomas after completion of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education course Friday at Soldotna High School.
Prior to graduation, students from Redoubt Elementary School put their knowledge to the test with a review game during their final D.A.R.E. class Wednesday.
Soldotna police officer Tobin Brennan, a three-year D.A.R.E. instructor, quizzed the students in Jake Eveland’s class on the definition of words they learned during the 10-week course. Groups of four responded to answers to words like trust, communication and peer pressure.
“Who do you go to when you need help?” Brennan asked the class. Students filled out their final worksheet listing the important people in their lives who they trusted to include in their help network. Parents, teachers, friends and coaches all made the list as people with experience the class went to for advice.
Brennan said while one of his lessons is to get students to understand that drugs and alcohol are bad, it is not just the “just say no” program. For one hour a week during the 10-week program, Brennan spends one day on health facts about alcohol and tobacco while the rest of the course is devoted to the decision making process.
“It is all about good decision making,” he said. “I help them define a problem, assess it, figure out what your choices are, responding to it and evaluating and determine whether it’s good or bad.”
Brennan said he does not sugarcoat anything and shares real-life experiences he has experienced, which allows the class to build trust with him.
“I’m real honest with the kids when I talk to them,” he said. “I don’t fake stories about my life. I tell them I was addicted to nicotine for 13 years of my life.”
With six classes from three schools, Redoubt, Soldotna Elementary and K-Beach Elementary, Brennan shook hands with 150 students Friday night who fulfilled their pledge to “just say no.”
Brennan selected six student essays, one from each class that best demonstrated the D.A.R.E. message. The writer of the most outstanding essay was presented with a new trek mountain bike courtesy of Beemun’s. The Soldotna Rotary paid for and donated the bike to the essay winner. Brennan presented the top six students with Darren the lion, the stuffed mascot that drives around in his patrol car all year.
At the start of the D.A.R.E. course, Brennan said he lets the kids ask him questions about his job. At the beginning of every class, he answers one question out of a box of anonymous submissions. For his last class with Eveland’s group, he shared a story of how he once got stuck in a jail cell.
“It is a fulfilling experience to work with kids and have a positive interaction,” he said. “(As a police officer) I am used to dealing with a traumatic event and responding to that.”
Eveland said his class always looked forward to having Officer Brennan come in and were always prepared with their D.A.R.E. workbook at the start of the day without being asked.
“The kids love it when I announce its D.A.R.E. day,” he said. “The message is beneficial because it is not only teaching them the importance of staying away from drugs and alcohol, but is also teaching them important life lessons such as: how to deal with stress and how to communicate with peers which is vital as the kids move to middle school and into adulthood.”
Following graduation, the 150 students dressed in their D.A.R.E. T-shirts celebrated their graduation with a 12-hour lock-in at the high school where students participated in activities such as swimming, basketball and table tennis. At 1 a.m. the kids settled in for a movie in the auditorium then the chaperons separated the boys and girls to get some sleep before the parents picked them up Saturday morning.
The lock-in is a fundraiser, sponsored by the Soldotna swim team.
“It is a fun experience for the kids,” Brennan said. “I am one of the few that doesn’t sleep at all. I have to make sure everyone is safe. The kids just love it. It’s a way for them to celebrate all their hard work.”