Jaden Foley, 11, a fifth grader at Horace Mann School, was all set to have fun on a humid day.
“I thought of doing the rock climbing,” she said, “but I’m using the water slide because it’s hot out.”
She and more than 700 township fifth graders enjoyed the spoils of working hard all year on Friday, May 31, with a day filled with recreation, fun, and treats. The students were being rewarded for their completion of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program run by the township school district.
The batting cage, bouncing house, ice cream trucks, and other amenities didn’t distract the kids from the seriousness of what they’d learned in their class.
“I think that it’s helped a lot, to teach me to grow and not do drugs, because it can mess up your life,” Jaden said. “It’s taught me how to listen and learn new things. And it taught me to believe in myself.”
Making the right decisions
Christian Benavente, 11, a fifth grader at Lincoln School, had similar comments about both the drug education portion of the program, as well as the self-esteem building.
“It teaches us to make right decisions,” he said. “It helps you learn why drugs aren’t correct for anyone and tells you how it affects you if you’re under-aged.”
Like with Foley, Benavente feels what he learned about himself was just as important as the drug education.
“It taught me to believe in myself.” – Jaden Foley
The North Bergen Police Honor Guard launched the day with their march onto the field. Officials were introduced, including Mayor Nicholas Sacco and township commissioners.
Then the children were treated to a musical rendition by Lori Michaels of the North Bergen DARE program theme song, “Reach Out,” accompanied by others from Reach Out, Inc., a dance center in Cliffside Park.
Karen Kalman, an English as a second language teacher for grades 3, 4 and 5, was attending her first DARE “graduation” program.
“The DARE program is very important because it tries to instill in children at an early age they should resist drugs and violence and gangs,” she said. “And it gives them the tools to do that. This gives them a tremendous foundation.”
Robert Bannon, a teacher at Kennedy School, said the 40 minutes of curriculum a week – one period – is well worth the children’s time.
“It teaches more than just the science and dangers of drugs,” he said. “It teaches character, educating how to be a leader and responsible adult.”
North Bergen Chief of Police Robert Dowd commended the students on their accomplishment.
“I want to congratulate you on achieving on your success,” he said, “and I wish you more success in life.”
Dowd said the DARE program in North Bergen is flourishing because of the department’s relationship with the Board of Education and school system, one that has always been strong.
But like the children, the chief said the program is not just about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
“It gives all sorts of important life lessons,” Dowd said. “They learn about leadership, integrity, self-esteem, all important characteristics for kids to embrace.”Dowd lauded the efforts of “Officer Joe,” Joe Sitty, the township DARE officer and community education coordinator, who was talked back into the program after retiring.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.