Troutman Middle School sixth-graders honored for completing D.A.R.E. program
BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Surgeon General’s 2016 landmark report entitled “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health” concluded that alcohol and drug misuse, disorders, and addiction are among America’s most pressing public health concerns.
However, the Surgeon General’s report states, “The good news is that there is strong scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of prevention programs and policies.”
To help combat and prevent substance abuse in the community, Troutman Police Chief Matthew Selves instituted the revamped and research-driven D.A.R.E. program this year at Troutman Middle School.
TMS School Resource Officer and D.A.R.E. instructor Wayne Elmore underwent two weeks of intensive training to become a become a certified instructor “I absolutely love working with students. It’s amazing that school resource officers can make the impact that they do, and I’m thankful for it,” he said.
Elmore led the ceremony on Tuesday night honoring the 135 sixth-graders who completed the ten Drug Abuse Resistance Education lessons this semester and then wrote an essay about what they learned.
Elmore chose four students -- Aisha Orilunise, Qunicey Bailey, Lilly Price and Haley Taylor -- for special recognition for their powerful essays. He read each essay to the crowd of parents and well-wishers and presented each with a stuffed D.A.R.E. lion.
Special guest speaker was Randy Pittman, owner of Randy’s BBQ, who also bought D.A.R.E. T-shirts for all the students who completed the program. Selves and Iredell-Statesville Board of Education Chairman Martin Page also congratulated each certificate recipient after a presentation by SRO Elmore.
Pittman recounted his difficult upbringing with an abusive father in a poverty-stricken household and a broken early marriage, life experiences that started him on a path of alcoholism and substance abuse to numb his psychological pain.
However, Pittman warned the students not to follow his destructive path. “I believe that drugs are a lie. I believe that drugs are nothing but the devil. Once you use, it controls you.”
“I’m ashamed of that lifestyle” of addiction, to which he also included cigarettes. He warned students that a rough childhood was not an excuse for his actions. “If you fall in that rut, you want to escape, but drugs are not the answer,” he said.
Pittman credits his faith in God and his current wife Robin for helping him turn away from addiction.
“I wasted a lot of years of her life and my daughters’ lives” before getting clean. He also missed being with his mother as she died of ovarian cancer years ago because doing drugs in the bathroom was more important to him.
“I should have been with her. That’s what drugs took away from me,” he said.
Pittman said the repercussions of substance use are serious, noting that “the life expectancy of a drug addict is about 40 years.” Because of his recovery, Pittman has reached age 59, “but my body is still paying for what I’ve done to it. I ask that you just don’t try it. Don’t become a loser.”
While living in Wilmington in 2006, Pittman experienced the painful loss of a friend who drove off a bridge while high, leaving behind four children. Pittman had to identify the body, which began Pittman on his road to recovery.
“I’ve wasted money, time, and half my life trying to find out how normal felt. I finally found it,” Pittman concluded, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd. “I thank God for it. I hope my story helps you in some way.”
After the ceremony, Selves said in an interview that he knew the value of the D.A.R.E. program, having experienced it himself growing up. He replaced the G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education And Training) education program the department had been using with D.A.R.E. this year because of its emphasis on drug, alcohol, cigarette and vaping resistance, which are more prevalent in this area than gang-related activity.
“We need to teach the kids to just say no,” said Selves.
Though Elmore is certified only for elementary and middle school D.A.R.E. instruction, Selves would love to get a high school SRO trained and institute it at the high school level as well.
“Sometimes when you do these programs and send them off to high school, we need to remind them. It’s really tough," Selves said. "We just need to keep communicating with the kids and reaching them. We need to go back to the grassroots of things -- just say no, walk away.”
Elmore, commenting on his first year teaching the program, was also pleased with how the classes broke down the barriers that too often exist between police officers and youths. “Some students shared some really personal things about how drugs have already affected their lives -- and they are just in the sixth grade. They had actually seen it and lived it.”
“I hope that as they continue in middle school, if they get presented with the opportunity to try drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or vapes, that they remember something from these lessons and say no.”
The D.A.R.E. mission is to teach “students good decision-making skills to help them lead safe and healthy lives.” The program seeks to create a “world in which students everywhere are empowered to respect others and choose to lead lives free from violence, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors.”
This year millions of school children around the world will benefit from D.A.R.E., which teaches kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs and violence.
D.A.R.E. was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles and is now implemented in 75 percent of American school districts and in more than 52 countries around the world.
The rigorous, scientific evaluations of the new “keepin’ it REAL” curriculum for students in grades six through nine show that students completing the course experienced a:
► 32% to 44% reduction in marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol use.
► 29% to 34% decrease in intent to accept substances.
► Reduction and cessation in substance use among those already using.