More than 60 sixth graders vowed Thursday to make good choices following completion of the area’s DARE program.

Piper Morff, a DARE essay winner, also said she’s glad she participated in the 10-week program.

“DARE has been extremely helpful, fun and educational, I will be sure to use everything I have learned in DARE,” she said.

Other students agreed with Morff, citing the DARE Decision Making Model as a way to make decisions through every step of life. The model includes defining a problem, assessing the situation, responding, and evaluating.

DARE is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives. DARE stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

Students’ participation throughout the 10 weeks was celebrated with a graduation ceremony in the Falls High School gymnasium, where new DARE instructor Jill Elsberry, who also works part-time as a Koochiching County sheriff’s deputy and as an International Falls police officer, explained what the program involves.

“We talked about the health effects of tobacco and alcohol, we talked about peer pressure, resistance strategies, bullying, and how to use our support network,” she said.

The DARE program was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles, Calif., and has proven so successful that is now being implemented in 75 percent of the nation’s school districts and in more than 52 countries around the world, said a hand-out from the local ceremony.

More than 70,000 law enforcement officers have taught the program, added International Falls Police Chief Rich Mastin.

“This program has evolved into something different — it’s not just about saying no to drugs and gang violence, it’s about making good life choices — it’s about coming together as a community, supporting our youth and helping to teach our youth to make those good life choices,” he said to the crowd of students, faculty, and family members.

“Thank you for your efforts, your dedication, and for your commitment in completing this program,” added International Falls Mayor Bob Anderson. “I think you will find in the future it is very helpful to you and I wish you the very best as you go forward.”

The program’s other DARE essay winners were Kieren Ford, Hunter Holler, Kendra Kalstad, Jenaya Kittleson, Jeremy Mason, Rita Matiski, Mara Pelland, Brendyn Scholler and Landan Snyder.

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