(WDEF) Back in 2006, April Dominguez was the first winner of the Whitfield County DARE Essay Contest to be honored by the Kiwanis Club of Dalton.
Now a senior at Southeast Whitfield High School, Dominguez returned to the eighth annual recognition ceremony at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center on May 13 to talk about how the DARE program has affected her life.
“I don’t know what I can tell you guys that DARE hasn’t already taught you,” she said, “but I guess I’ll just start off by saying that peer pressure is very real and people that you thought were your friends are going to try to pressure you into doing things that you don’t want to do. You might lose friends and they’re going to try to ridicule you and call you a baby for not doing what others are doing.
“I think that’s what DARE taught me,” Dominguez said, “not just the ability to say no but I think it was more of the ability to deal with the aftermath of saying no, how to deal with people trying to ridicule you for making the right choice.”
DARE taught her to be courageous in the choices she makes, Dominguez said. “Since being in high school, I’ve been given the opportunity to try drugs, and every single time I’ve stood my ground and now whenever I say no, nobody laughs because they know that’s not one of my priorities. They know that’s not what I’m about so they don’t even offer me it anymore.”
She urged the fifth-grade essay winners being honored at the program not to let peer pressure affect their decisions. “Whatever you’re doing, if you believe that it’s the right choice, then it’s the right choice,” she said. “Don’t be afraid and speak your mind. Stand up firmly in what you think is right.”
Temptations will be there, she said, “and you guys have learned tons of ways to say no, so use every single weapon that you possibly can. There are so many adults who are willing to help you if you do need help. It’s going to be tough, you might slip once or twice, but don’t forget who you are, and don’t change for anyone because it’s not worth it. So be proud in you and be proud in the choices that you make every single day.
“I think DARE has taught you guys just about everything that you need to know,” Dominguez said. “It helped me to get to where I am today, graduating with honors and attending the University of Georgia this fall. I know the pressures are going to build in college, but I think that DARE has taught me to be ready to accept whatever comes my way. So I wish you guys all the best, and I hope you take what you learned in this program to heart and use it in the future because it’s going to come in handy.”
The 13 winners of this year’s DARE Essay Contest were recognized during the program, including Gissel Guzman of Cedar Ridge Elementary, overall winner and recipient of a plaque and $100; Amelia McClure, Beaverdale Elementary, second place and recipient of a plaque and $50; and Crystal Toche, Antioch Elementary, third place and recipient of a plaque and $20.
Also recognized were winners from each of the county’s other elementary schools, including Coda Voyles - Cohutta, Carly Edwards - Varnell, Mallory McAllister - Pleasant Grove, Tyson Haley - New Hope, Samantha Samano - Valley Point, Patton Pickard – Dawnville, Reyna Fraire – Dug Gap, Olivia Mauldin – Westside, Kate Burton – Tunnel Hill, and Sandra Gudino – Eastside.
District Attorney Bert Poston, a member of the Kiwanis Club who has served as emcee for all eight honors programs, praised the students for their efforts on the winning essays.
“This program is first and foremost about you students that have won the essay contest at your school and are here today,” he said. “We want you to know how very proud we are of all of you. You have shown that you paid attention during the DARE program and actually learned from it.”
He also praised the parents who attended the recognition ceremony. “These kids couldn’t do it without your support,” Poston told them, “and I see it in the district attorney’s office that the kids we deal with and the adults that we deal with generally come from homes that don’t have that kind of support. That support is so important for these kids, and we’re so glad that you’re behind them and that you’re here today. Likewise with the teachers, the impact that you have on these kids is tremendous. We really appreciate you taking your time out today – the principals and others with the school system that are also here.”
Sheriff Scott Chitwood thanked the school administrators for allowing the sheriff’s office to hold the DARE program each year since 1987, noting that he must have permission from the schools to teach DARE.
“We always say at our DARE graduation that if we changed the life of one person, one student, then we’ve made a difference,” he said. “When we attend programs like this where the Kiwanis Club takes the time to set aside one program each year to recognize the outstanding work of the school system and these fine students, it brightens our day.”
DARE instructors Tammy Silvers and Darlene Roberts presented each of the 13 winners with certificates of recognition. Also attending the program was Lt. Wayne Mathis, who is in charge of the DARE program.
“You’re the top 13 out of just over a thousand students that went through this program,” Silvers said, “so you’re the cream of the crop. You’re the ones that others are going to be looking at to make those good choices and to make that decision for staying drug free. You’re that role model, and you have to make that stand to stay drug free from now on.”
Roberts pointed out that the students had to get up in front of their class and read their essays to make a promise to stay drug free and violence free.
“I would not have wanted to judge any of these essays, much less pick the top three out of this 13,” she said. “You guys truly are the cream of the crop. We are so very proud of you for your efforts and for your accomplishments.”
This year, millions of school children around the world will benefit from DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), which gives kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence.
DARE was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles and has proven so successful that it is now being implemented in 75 percent of the nation’s school districts and in more than 43 countries around the world.
DARE is a law enforcement officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through middle school how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug- and violence-free lives.
The winning essay in the eighth annual DARE Essay Contest, written by Gissel Guzman, Miss Raines’ class, Cedar Ridge Elementary School, follows:
My D.A.R.E. Essay
Hello! My name is Gissel, and through these past weeks of D.A.R.E., I’ve learned about many things! Drugs, communication, bullying, and the list goes on. I appreciate Mrs. Silvers for teaching us about things we should avoid and what we shouldn’t. I am now going to share my experience with you.
My first Thursday with Mrs. Silvers was magnificent. The first thing she taught us was the Decision Making Model. Once everybody got the hang of it, we then used it a bunch of times to solve problems. I thought the Decision Making Model was an easy way to solve problems, so I used it in some of my problems. I know you might be pondering what the Decision Making Model stands for; it stands for define, assess, respond, and evaluate. Define is when you describe the problem or challenge. Assess is when you think about how many choices you have. Respond is when you respond or make a choice. Last but not least, you Evaluate; you review your decision.
I’m not going to tell you what we did every Thursday, but I will talk about it quickly. Next, we talked about drugs and resistance strategies. Mrs. Silvers taught us really cool facts about drugs. I’m going to tell three facts:
1.Mixing alcohol with medicine is dangerous;
2.Alcohol is illegal for anyone under the age of 21;
3.There are more than 200 chemicals in cigarette smoke.
In the resistance strategies lesson, we learned how to avoid the situation, strength, walking away, saying no, or giving an excuse. I think these are magnificent strategies.
Mrs. Silvers taught us about peer pressure, stress, and pressure. Peer pressure is when people your age try to get you to do something. Pressure is a force or influence that acts on you to do something. Stress is any strain, pressure, or excitement felt about a situation or an event.
Next, Mrs. Silvers taught us about communication styles. Here they are:
1.Confident: acting in any way while respecting others;
2.Unsure: being uncertain or unwilling to stand up for yourself;
3.Demanding: acting in a way that is hostile; attacking others without regard for their feelings.
Mrs. Silvers said the best way is “confident,” because you are respecting others.
Next, I’ll talk about nonverbal communication, effective listening, and empathy. Nonverbal communication is physical actions or body language that goes with what we are saying. Effective listening is showing the other person through verbal and nonverbal communication that you are paying attention. Last but not least, empathy is about understanding how other people feel.
Mrs. Silvers talked to us about bullying and bystanders. Bullying is an aggressive or unwanted behavior used again and again to isolate, harm, or control another person. A bystander is someone who witnesses bullying and who has an opportunity to help.
Next, I’ll talk about tattling and telling. Tattling is when you want to get someone in trouble for a harmless behavior. Telling is providing information to a trusted adult to help someone or keep them safe.
Do you know what a good citizen is? Well, a good citizen is someone who acts responsibly by helping someone who is in need.
Do you have a help network? Do you even know what a help network is? A help network is a person or a group you can call on for advice, help, encouragement, or guidance.
What is a fact? Well, a fact is something that can be proven to be true. A risk is taking a chance!
Last, “I, Gissel Guzman, pledge to never take drugs nor do bullying.” Thanks for listening!