May 31, 2006 – Bria Ward and Joandra Perez, both 12, proudly pranced about Island Center for the Performing Arts Wednesday evening wearing a souvenir T-shirt with the words "2 smart 2 Start," a testament to weeks of classroom instruction on not caving in to peer pressure or low self-esteem that may lead them down the wrong road to drug abuse.
They were among the 725 "graduates" of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), a partnership between the V.I. Police Department, schools and the community to teach K-12 children to resist drugs and violence.
Wednesday's ceremony featured students from 11 elementary schools and was the 14th graduation for the V.I. DARE program, according to Cpl. Sheila Middleton, among the first of many local police officers to be certified to teach the program. Since that time, Middleton said, the Virgin Islands has graduated 16,000 students.
The DARE program, which is nationally acclaimed, is also taught in Caribbean islands like St. Lucia and Dominica and has graduated more than 36 million children overall, she said.
Ward and Perez, both sixth-graders at Ricardo Richards Elementary School, said that Middleton taught the five-week class at their school, located near the Village Mall in Estate Barren Spot.
"She taught us about making our own decisions and that drugs is bad and it could make you sick," said Ward.
Perez said as part of the program, students were able to have candid discussions in class based on questions they placed anonymously into a "question box."
One of those questions, she said, was: "If someone is pressuring you to take drugs and you know it's not really a bad drug and want to try it, should you try it or tell the person it is bad you should not try it?"
She said that Middleton told the class that drugs, whether it be alcohol or marijuana, are bad because it could affect their lives and said that the correct answer should be to convince the person with the drugs that it is unsafe to use it.
There was plenty of fanfare Wednesday night as the graduates – all in T-shirts — sat as a group and watched some of their counterparts rap, read poetry, sing and play steel pan music as part of the entertainment.
They also had words of wisdom imparted by those who had been through the elementary level of the program.
The four guest speakers – eighth-graders Iziah Ashe, Martina Nielsen, Selina Richards and Ginna Barry — were all former graduates of DARE. Each of them implored the younger students to say "no" to drugs and not to allow low self-esteem or peer pressure lead them to a life of drugs.
Sen. Terrence Nelson, a featured speaker on the program, got the students attention by asking, "Do you believe anyone actually plans their life to become a drug addict?"
The resounding answered was "No!"
"People don't plan on being a drug addict and it takes one try, one try and they get hooked and their future goes down the drain," Nelson said, adding that when friends tell the students to "try it one time," don't do it.
"Don't bend to peer pressure," he said. "No one can limit your achievement but you. No one can limit yourself but you."
Nelson said that the DARE program "is a perfect program to get you on the right track.
Nelson said that during his first year in college he was approached by someone who wanted him to try drugs.
He didn't, he said.
He told the graduates that as they move on to junior high school to "dare to be successful. Dare to resist drugs because the world is full of influences.
"It only takes one try and then you want it all the time," he said.
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