D.A.R.E-ing to care about students

Nine years ago, during my oldest child’s fifth–grade D.A.R.E. graduation, I held my 2-year-old baby on my lap.

In some inexplicable way, 2-year-old Faith made the fact that my oldest was growing up so fast and about to enter the new world of middle school more bearable.

Faith and her fifth- grade classmates recently went through their own DARE graduation. I should have borrowed someone’s 2-year-old to anchor me. I felt a bit adrift watching all of these fifth-graders, including my youngest, accept living drug-free lives as their personal responsibility.

Pelham’s DARE officer for the past 13 years, Carrie Bowman, addressed parents and teachers during the ceremony.

“Whether we want to believe it or not, this is an age where kids need to accept that the decision to choose a drug-free life is uniquely their own. Our job is to empower them with the tools to make the right choice,” Bowman said.

Officer Bowman teaches her fifth graders throughout the fall. Fifth grade DARE instruction culminates with an essay competition.

At graduation, the essay winners share their papers with the audience.

I’ve sat through three D.A.R.E. graduations, yet I’ve never been more moved by the writers than I was this year.

One fifth-grade girl wrote about losing both of her grandfathers to drugs.

This 10-year-old also deals with her grandmother’s lifelong addictions and comforts her drug-free mother who deals with the pain of losing her parents to addiction.

Another ten-year-old girl read her paper revealing she realizes her dad’s recovery from addiction is a day-by-day journey that she must share.

One young man wrote about loving the D.A.R.E. song and the way that officer Bowman teaches the class, reaching these fifth graders where they are right now –– finding a balance between the kids that they are and the adolescents that they are becoming.

Officer Bowman has an office at Riverchase Middle School where she continues to work with the students, and she shows up at high school events constantly. Officer Bowman said, “I get more from my D.A.R.E. students than they get from me. They are a big part of my life.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Principal Dana Payne said to her VIS students, “You’re vowing to live a drug-free life. If you’re ever tempted to break your vow, think back on today and this promise that you are making in front of Officer Bowman, your teachers and your parents –– then make your choice.”

With the empowerment our Valley Intermediate students receive from the DARE program, Officer Bowman and the Pelham community, they’re prepared to succeed.

Connie Nolen can be reached by e–mail at CNolen@Shelbyed.k12.al.us.