Exceptional Essay

Edgar Murray Elementary School fifth-grader Erica Souders turns a page as she reads her personal D.A.R.E. essay out loud during Wednesday’s graduation ceremony in the school’s gymnasium.

The students may be different every year, but the message not only to them but to their parents, grandparents and, guardians and other adults remains the same.

“Together, we can do this.”

About 190 Edgar Murray Elementary School fifth-graders received their D.A.R.E. diplomas on Wednesday afternoon after they each completed several weeks of classes led by St. Clair Police Officer Bruce Wilken.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education curriculum is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teach students how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug- and violence-free lives. The program is designed to be taught by police officers whose training and experience give them the background needed to answer the sophisticated questions often posed by students about drugs and crime.

Wilken doubles as the St. Clair R-XIII School District D.A.R.E. officer.

“Thank you for letting me have your kids these past few weeks,” Wilken told the adults who attended the ceremony in the Murray gymnasium. “These kids are smart, and they have a lot of intelligent questions. I will continue to help answer these questions, and I encourage us all to work together.

“These people are now young adults,” he said of the fifth-graders. “We’ve had some good discussions. I encourage you to get some cookies and milk, sit down, and let them talk to you. They know a lot more than you think they do. They know what’s going on, and they have some concerns, some deep concerns, about things.

“They need help, and you’re the ones who can help them.”

Wilken continued.

“All of these kids have bright futures. With a little help, they can make it. My challenge to you is to help them out. Together, we can do this.”

The D.A.R.E. students all had to write an essay focusing on the program, the dangers of drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse and what they liked and didn’t like about it. Some essays were personal.

One youngster in each of the eight fifth-grade classes received a medal for putting together the best essay. Those students shared their essays with the audience on Wednesday.

The essay winners were Tristen Madigan, Rachel Suttmueller, Mya McQueen, Emma Smith, Brianna Sullivan, Addyson Murphey, Taylor Sikes and Erica Souders.

Near the conclusion of the ceremony, each of the fifth-grade teachers came to the front of the group and through blind draws picked the name of a student in their class. Each one selected won a new bicycle. Before the winners were drawn, however, Principal Larrinda Witt and Assistant Principal Beth Hill “tested” a couple of the bikes by riding them around the gymnasium.

The bike winners were Melico Decker, Lucas Hardin, Emma Walters, Kyley Henry, Timothy Eakins, Addyson Murphey, Korbin Bocanegra and Zach Browne.

As the ceremony concluded, Wilken said he wanted to close it the same way he closed each of his classroom sessions with the students.

“What day is it?” Wilken asked.

“It’s D.A.R.E. day!” the students all shouted in unison in return.