Local fifth-graders<br>graduate from DARE program

Twenty-four Grand Canyon fifth-graders completed requirements for graduation from the Grand Canyon DARE program on March 19.

Grand Canyon fifth-grader Keslee Foster reads her personal commitment to those in attendance at the Drug Abuse Resistance Education culmination on March 19.

Ronnie Gibson, Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer, oversaw his 12th straight graduation at Grand Canyon School. Gibson’s first DARE class was during the 1991-92 school year. The National Park Service has been supporting the program since 1987.

Grand Canyon School superintendent Ray Vernon and principal Richard Dodson served as speakers for the event. Each gave short presentations directing comments toward the students.

Remarks by Vernon and Dodson included personal experiences and stories relating to drug and alcohol abuse in their friends and the impacts it created. They encouraged students to apply the lessons learned in DARE to both education and their future.

"It is designed to teach much more than drug awareness and resistance," Gibson said of the 17-week program. "It strives to empower the students with additional knowledge that will help them in resisting life’s many pressures and stresses."

Seven students from the graduating class were presented with DARE medallions for essays they had composed. Jonathan Wilkerson, Monique Streit, Tiffany Kerr, Miriam Bankston, Marissa Timeche, Andrea Soriano and Keslee Foster were part of the personal commitments portion of the program. Four of those students were selected by their peers to read commitments; the other three were chosen by Gibson based on classroom presentations.

In all, 17 students presented essays in the classroom.

"This gave them the chance to, in their own words, tell what they learned and how they can use the information," Gibson said. "It allows the students to make a commitment to try and stay drug-abuse and violence free."

To graduate, student must fulfill three general requirements — participate in class, complete basic assignments in a workbook and write an essay or commitment to try to avoid drug abuse and violence.

Serving as class role models for this school year were seniors Crystal Coffey and Nate Bitsui along with juniors Kellee Kell and Andrew Keske. Gibson was assisted by the four role models, deputy chief ranger Sherrie Collins, Dodson, Vernon and fifth-grade teacher Shelly Talker when conferring the graduation certificates.

Fifth-graders Kelsey Olsen and Streit and sixth-graders Chloe Phillips and Casey Gibson were also recognized. Those students held a "Lemon Aid Stand for DARE" last summer and collected money to be used for supplies for this school year.

Gibson said Talker was instrumental in helping with the lessons and supporting students. Gibson also mentioned the efforts of several NPS employees, including ranger Marty McCaslin who took photos and others who along with school staff, served treats, cleaned up and showed support.

The event included punch, ice cream and cake for about 70 parents, students and guests. Delaware North Parks Services, through Malissa Olnick, donated treats and utensils. For the fifth year, Kakes by Kathy donated a cake.

The DARE program was introduced to Grand Canyon School back during the 1987-88 school year. Ranger Beth Betts attended DARE officer training from the Southwestern Region Training Center in Phoenix. Behind support from school superintendent John Vest, chief ranger Ken Miller and district ranger Daryll Cook, Betts became the first DARE officer from the NPS.

Others serving in that capacity included Susan Kosler, Kim Coates, Joan Blais, Tammy Keller and Gibson, who completed his training in 1991 and began presenting DARE for the 1991-92 school year.

The South Rim district sponsored the program until 1991 with funds coming from community donations. Beginning in 1991, the program became fully funded with Drug Enforcement education money. In 1998, GCNP received a base funding increase from Washington to cover the program’s expenses.

The DARE core curriculum program has been presented to fifth-graders since 1991. That same year, the kindergarten through fourth-grade visitation program began.

Gibson said the program is successful because of reinforcement through repetition. For students who attend Grand Canyon all 13 grades, they will have had six or more years of DARE classes.

Fifth-graders are targeted for the DARE core curriculum because it is their last year of elementary school before moving on to middle school, where peer and other pressures are known to be greater, Gibson said.

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