MONTVILLE, NJ – Woodmont Elementary School held its “graduation” from a unique new program conducted by Montville Township Police Officer Scott McGowan called Law Enforcement Against Drugs, or LEAD.

This ten-week course, taught in the school’s fifth grade classrooms, introduces and reviews a series of skills to prepare children to make healthy choices and resist unhealthy behaviors in life, including bullying, fighting, and other aggressive behavior, McGowan told TAPinto Montville.

“It was founded in 2014 in New Jersey and offers the only K-12 evidence based curriculum taught in the U.S. by police officers,” McGowan said.

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McGowan went into each classroom for one period each week and taught lessons such as goal setting, decision making, effective communications, peer pressure refusal, and the effect of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. At the end of each lesson, students played card or board games, or role played to reinforce the lesson, he said.

“After each class, the students were given a page of homework to fill out with their parent or guardian,” McGowan said. “When families are involved in the learning process, students are twice as likely to use and remember the skills that are taught.”

At the end of the program, the students wrote a five-paragraph essay explaining what they enjoyed about the LEAD program, what they learned, or their favorite parts. The top essay from each of the three classrooms was read at the graduation, after being judged by Police Chief Rudy Appelmann, Police Captains Andrew Caggiano and Mark Olsson, Woodmont teachers and others.

At the graduation ceremony, Appelmann thanked Superintendent René Rovtar for bringing the program into the district and thanked McGowan for his hard work invested in the program.

“We had programs in the schools for years and want to get back into that,” he said. “We want to get more involved; we want our police department to interact more with the schools.”

McGowan also announced at the graduation that because there was such positive feedback from the students and teachers, the program will be implemented across the district in the fifth grade across the district starting in September.

Michael Colaiacovo was the winner from Mr. Marra and Ms. Brunn’s class, with his essay called “LEAD Makes a Difference.” Colaiacovo’s essay was about McGowan’s lessons of setting goals that are not too easy, and how to escape peer pressure by suggesting a “better activity that is not a bad decision.”

“The LEAD program was filled with worthwhile lessons for me as I grow,” Colaiacovo read to the assembly from his essay. “All the lessons prepared me for situations that might be around me in middle school and high school.”

Mrs. Macorski’s and Mrs. Epstein’s class winner was Janvhavi Misra, who wrote about her three favorite lessons. She enjoyed the lessons on effective communications; peer pressure refusal, which she said was taught with “exit strategies”; and she said she also enjoyed the lessons on the effects of alcohol on the brain. She thanked McGowan for teaching the LEAD program.

The essay contest winner in Mr. Quinn’s class was Sophia Khan who wrote about setting realistic goals and controlling emotions by not taking them out on others.

“Alcohol, drugs and smoking may not sound the same, but the results are almost always the same,” she read from her essay. “In conclusion, LEAD was an amazing class. It taught us about lots of things that will help us in life. I liked LEAD because it helped us get ready for things that might happen as we grow up.”

McGowan said he thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the essays, “although some of them were a little easier to read than others, every single one of you impressed me!”

He said his favorite parts to read were one student’s claim that “potatoes contain the chemical nicotine, which is why we’re so addicted to french fries,” and that the lessons helped one student connect with their parents and discuss issues they normally wouldn’t talk about.

McGowan closed the ceremony by encouraging the students to stay drug-free, build healthy relationships, and stay humble and kind.

Photo: The photo shows Woodmont Principal Dominic Esposito (in yellow), with Police Captain Andrew Caggiano, Police Chief Rudy Appelmann, Police Officer and LEAD instructor Scott McGowan, plus essay contest winners Michael Colaiacovo, Sophia Khan and Janhavi Misra.

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