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DARE Marks 20th Anniversary in Bellingham with Graduation

Jun 26, 2014 03:09PM ● By Pamela Johnson
The bleachers in the Bellingham Memorial Middle School gym were filled to capacity. On one side were 200 sixth-grade students, all wearing gray DARE t-shirts; on the opposite side sat parents and siblings of the students who had participated in and finished the eight-week program. Originally D.A.R.E. stood for “Drug Abuse Resistance Education,” but, according to its national website, the program has evolved into an effort to “teach children good decision—making skills to help them lead safe and healthy lives.”

Remarks from the adults present were brief. Police Chief Gerry Daigle spoke directly to the students and said, “Working with you kids here in the school, at the youth center, and elsewhere in town is Officer Gosselin’s mission in life.” Lt. Kevin Rainieri addressed the parents. “Stay involved with your kids,” he urged. “They will continue to need you.”

DARE education has been in Bellingham schools since 1994. School Resource Officer Len Gosselin offers the DARE program to Bellingham 6th graders despite reduced funding. Gosselin said, “We have continued the DARE program with funds we have had from years past, but we are looking for corporate sponsors.”*

He explained that to graduate from the program, each student was required to complete a one-page essay about what they had learned from their time in the program. The focus this day was on the kids and what they had learned. What was left unsaid was that Gosselin had read each and every one of the essays the students wrote—a huge effort, yet typical of how he gives back.

Gosselin noted that he had urged the students, in their writing, to focus on more personal concerns. He then invited eight students up to read their essays. Students shared sobering statistics about drinking and smoking, health concerns, drug-abuse facts, and the dangers of addiction. Many discussed the difference between recreational use of marijuana and medicinal use, making the point that while drugs can be dangerous, they also have their place. Julieann Nolan said, “I’m the oldest in my family. I need to set a good example.” Another student shared how her family had been affected by a family member’s drinking, while another described witnessing the pain of neighbors who had lost their son, killed in a car driven by a drunk driver.

Gosselin emphasized at the beginning of the program that DARE, rather than being all about what not to do, and what to say “no” to, has become a program that stresses the importance of making good decisions. Sixth-grader Joe Brown seemed to sum this up when he read from his essay, “A single decision can change your life forever”— good advice for people at any age to heed.

A lot of students promised in their essays to remember the lessons they had learned in the DARE program. Grasping the effect of good and bad decisions and the consequences of those decisions is a really good place to start.

story & photo by Marjorie Turner Hollman,
Bulletin Contributing Writer




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