NEWTON, NJ - School administration, faculty, police officers, public officials, and parents, came out to celebrate the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) graduation for fifth graders at the Merriam Avenue School on Thursday afternoon.
"I feel so honored to have such wonderful guests to celebrate our D.A.R.E. Program," said Karen Perez, the school's principal.
For the students, Perez said, "You work beautifully, your social skills are amazing, in addition to that, you're really smart."
Detective Thomas Tosti of the Newton Police Department, who has been the department's D.A.R.E. instructor for eight years, explained it is a 10-week program, designed to teach students the dangers of drug use. Students, for example, learn about peer pressure, and engage in learning exercises, to teach them how to say no to drugs.
"D.A.R.E. is not designed to scare, it's designed to give facts," Tosti said.
He told the audience some statistics, such as how 400,000 people in the United States die from smoking each year, an amount that would fill Giants' Stadium. He also said 27 people die daily in the country as well, from alcohol-related car crashes.
Tosti was pleased to report on how well all the D.A.R.E. graduates participated in the class.
Newton Police officers who were on duty who attended were: Tosti, Sergeant Mike Monaco, Officer Kenneth Teets, Special Officer Kyle Phlegar, Officer Daniel Finkle, and Chief Michael Richards.
Rich Vohden, Sussex County Freeholder Director, attended the event with his wife, Faith, and was the event's keynote speaker. Vohden explained to the students about his job as a freeholder, and the origins of the freeholder position from England. Vohden also explained how he runs his own farm, in addition to his work on the freeholder board.
"I love farming, it's hard work, I'm living my life's dream," he said.
Vohden said he was in fifth grade when World War II ended, and he was unaware of what drugs like heroin, and marijuana, were. When he served in the war in Korea, however, he saw the effects of drugs on some fellow soldiers, who were hooked on opium.
As Vohden worked in Korea to clear minefields, he remembered a sign his supervisor placed in front of them, and said he heeded the advice, which read, "'Fools learn by experience, wise men learn from their mistakes.'"
Vohden's grandmother, he said, told him if he really wanted to be happy in life, he had to work hard to do what he wanted to do.
In turn, Vohden saved as much money as possible for his dream, and to put his children through college, and, in the right time, and in the right place, he was able to fulfill his dream. He said some have told him how lucky he is, something he used to be upset by. He realized as many of me were out drinking, smoking, and gambling, he was working towards his dream.
Now Vohden said he responds, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."
Tosti backed up Vohden's statement, to further apply it for the student, "One of the main things we learned in D.A.R.E. was choices. He [Vohden] made the right choices."
Each student received a certificate for participation, plus other items, and sported a special D.A.R.E. t-shirt for the completion of their course. Then students talked about the websites they created on Glogster, with each group that made pages expressing the dangers with tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol use.
Richards took a turn at the podium, and said, "What we're trying to achieve here is true collaboration with the school, parents, and police department."
Richards said the goal is for students also to realize members of the police department are people they can count on.
"You've got a dream, you've got to strive hard for that dream," Richards said. "You're up and coming, you're our future. We want to support you in staying safe, and healthy."
Assistant Principal Kevin Stanton closed the program and thanked everyone for attending.
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