At DARE commencement, graduates take the pledge

UNION, NJ — Union’s D.A.R.E./L.E.A.D. graduation for Central Five Jefferson Elementary School students was held last week at Union High School. More than 500 students at Jefferson, located in Vauxhall, went through the drug and alcohol abuse program, with each of the classes meeting weekly for 20 weeks.

This was the 23rd annual D.A.R.E. graduation program in Union public schools.
D.A.R.E. — Drug Abuse Resistance Education — is an international substance abuse and gang prevention education program that seeks to educate and prevent addiction to drugs and alcohol, and to prevent youngsters from joining gangs. The program involves students interacting with police officers or sheriffs in a classroom environment rather than in a criminal justice setting, and is funded largely as a crime prevention program working through education within schools.

As part of the graduation, the students took the D.A.R.E. pledge promising not to use drugs or join gangs.

According to Union police sergeant Tim Ford and Staff Services Supervisor for the D.A.R.E./L.E.A.D. program, there have been positive results for the students who take part in the course. “D.A.R.E. officers do believe that this program has a positive outcome,” Ford told LocalSource. “It allows the officers to interact with the youth in the community, as well as their parents, the board of education, and the school staff on a daily basis.”

Ford said that the consistent interaction with D.A.R.E. officers allows for students, families, and schools to feel a sense of security knowing that they can seek assistance and guidance, or to report illegal behavior. “This interaction allows a sense of respect amongst the entire community,” said Ford. “The students and their families have advised that when they were faced with choices, they made the more positive choice not to get involved in drugs or alcohol because of what they learned in D.A.R.E. class.

Ford said that positive feedback about the program is a constant. “Feedback comes daily from the students, parents, the board of education, and the school staff,” said Ford. “They all welcome our presence and involvement at all times.”

Union Mayor Manuel Figueiredo told LocalSource that he is proud of the graduates’ accomplishments. “In life, it takes a great deal of effort to resist peer pressure, a great deal of dedication and resistance to avoid taking the easy route,” said Figueiredo. “ I hope that the DARE program has not only taught our young people how to live productive drug and violence-free lives, but also that great success is possible in life, if you make the right choices and arm yourself with the greatest weapon you can carry: that of hard work and great effort. Our students were recognized for their effort in completing the program and for taking the first steps to being the forces of positive change within our community. For that, I am proud not only of the students’ accomplishments, but the leadership and guidance that our UPD officers instilled throughout the DARE program.”

Union Deputy Mayor Suzette Cavadas attended the graduation. “As a mother of a child in the Union public school district, I see the changes going on in communities surrounding us,” Cavadas told LocalSource. “I recognize how important it is, now more than ever, for us as individuals to be working with our children, schools and local government to continue to show our youth that positivity, progression and success are all still very much attainable. I am proud that, in a day and age where programs like these are ill-supported and undervalued, that Union maintains its commitment to our youth by showing them the importance of personal responsibility and a drug- and violence-free lifestyle,” she said.

Ford said that the program, which first began in 1983, has had to adapt over the years in order to address the issues faced by today’s youth. “We do tend to modify the D.A.R.E./L.E.A.D. classes in order to properly address the issues the youth in our community face,” Ford said. “With the advancement in technology, the pressures that youth face is much more involved than years ago. The constant accessibility to the internet and the sites makes pressures much more difficult to escape. Therefore, we have modified the class to reinforce building upon respect for the students themselves, as well as expanding their confidence to communicate with others.”

Ford maintains that today’s youth fall into substance abuse for a variety of reasons. “Kids’ reasons for involvement in drugs varies based on their situational upbringing,” Ford said. “Some youth claim because of peer pressure and others claim because they feel as though they do so to escape the daily pressures they face in their lives.”