It was a special day for 5th graders in the district as they participated in their Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) graduation. The event was held at the middle school, and the stands were filled with excited students and their supporters. Roughly 180 students from Lincoln Elementary, Sacred Heart and Iowa Great Lakes Lutheran School, received their diplomas and were reminded of the tools they gained by completing the curriculum with Lieutenant Kyle Van Otterloo from the Spencer Police Department, or Kyle, as he encouraged the students to call him in an effort to break down barriers and let the students know that he is here to help.
DARE started in 1983 in Los Angeles, where the Chief of Police knew there was distance between the schools and law enforcement. He utilized DARE as a way to get officers in the school to bridge the gap. The program was created to give students tools to help them make safe, healthy choices. Over the years, the program has evolved and shifted in an effort to stay relevant with the trends. Alcohol and tobacco use, bullying, good communication skills, risks and consequences, how to be a good citizen or an upstander instead of being a bystander, and other important life skills are included with the curriculum.
Something that Kyle puts into the classrooms is called the DARE Box, and students are able to drop questions that they might have in the box for Kyle to address. While Kyle has experienced many different questions, there was something extra special found in the box this year. Being a good sport, and after some practice, Kyle stood in front of the entire audience and did a rap that was made up and put in the box anonymously.
The annual program culminates with an essay contest, and winners are selected from each section of 5th grade at Lincoln, and there are two additional winners selected from Sacred Heart and Iowa Great Lakes Lutheran School. This year’s eight winning essays were shared at graduation, and each essay was filled with heart-felt, personal stories and tools that can be used now and in the future. After hearing the essays, teachers and teacher associates were excused to vote on the one essay that would represent the school district. The winning essay was written by Zach Schomaker, and it will be sent to the Police Association Board for additional judging, and then one winning essay will be selected by the board and read at an upcoming Police Association Conference held in Le Mars. Additional winners included: Julia Gastelum, Veronica Studer, Weston Johnson, Kendra Lowe and Kaylee Rosacker of Lincoln Elementary, Sophia Richardson of IGLLS and Brady Block of Sacred Heart. Though Zach didn’t have many additional words to say after winning, he shared that he enjoyed working with Kyle and completing DARE. Zach’s teacher, Amy Thompson added, “I have always loved DARE, from the first second that Kyle has been in our room, and every year we look forward to it. The essays are a big part of it, and it integrates into our writing curriculum really well. When you get kids who write from the heart, it makes it extra special.”
The graduation ceremony ended with a speech written by the director of Positively Spencer Youth (PSY), Amy Simpson, and delivered by PSY President, Danny Dekker. Due to Simpson being ill, Dekker read Simpson’s message filled with great thoughts and inspirations, as well as concrete ideas of activities available through school and the community. Simpson ended by challenging the student supporters in the audience to positively impact the kids by talking to them about their choices, which has been shown to decrease involvement in unhealthy behaviors. She ended by reminding the students that the school district and community each want the very best for all of them, and in every decision that they will face, they have a choice. After a cake reception provided by PSY, students boarded buses and headed back for school as usual.