The black T-shirt clad children sat on benches in front of beaming parents and grandparents, eager to pledge to do right for themselves and each other.
The Grade 5 class of Ladysmith Intermediate School graduated from the 10-week D.A.R.E. program on Wednesday, Feb. 9.
“Drugs! Abuse! Resistance! Education!” the students yelled in unison.
The program aims to teach the children about drugs, alcohol, violence and peer pressure.
“It’s a very worthwhile program,” principal Cathal Walsh said. “I think we all agree we want to educate students to make good decisions in their lives.”
The students were taught for one hour, once a week by Const. Joanne Ruppenthal of Ladysmith RCMP.
“For me it’s a challenge, it’s about giving back to the community,” she said.
The dedicated police officer has been teaching the program for 11 years and three years at LIS.
“It’s a fun class,” she said. “Every year I’m blown away by the enthusiastic personalities in the class.”
Six students were chosen to read essays they wrote for the occasion, including Chris Carter, Arianna Isaac, Haven Bouma, Blayne Ellis and Mattea Sawyer.
The children’s clear, keen voices reached across the gymnasium, listing their reasons for staying away from negative influences.
“My body is much much more important than drugs or alcohol will ever be,” said Sawyer. “The most important thing I’ve learned in D.A.R.E. is how to say no.”
Bouma pledged to “never drink alcohol, do drugs, or smoke. And I promise to do my best to not be peer pressured.”
The children also performed a skit about the challenges they face growing up and each received a certificate.
Ruppenthal, who also teaches the program at Davis Road Elementary and North Oyster schools, said D.A.R.E. helps make her job easier.
“It gives them enough tools to resist bad peer pressure,” she said, helping to lower the likelihood she will have to deal with them as criminals when they’re older.
“These guys are the future and if they connect with a police officer it will benefit them,” she said. “They see us as a human as well.”
Ruppenthal said she acknowledges speaking about these issues is tough for parents.
“It’s scary to talk about drugs, to talk about violence and to talk about peer pressure,” she said, adding that she lends her real-life experience and examples to help the children understand.
“I have that connection with the kids and I hope to continue it.”