ELLSWORTH — Fifth-grade students at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School got diplomas when they graduated from the DARE program last week, as well as a sobering message about substance abuse and positive guidance about facing life’s challenges.
State Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock County), owner of the Union River Lobster Pot and a veteran educator, was the guest speaker at the graduation event held Dec. 20.
He told the students, staff, family members and officers of the Ellsworth Police Department gathered in the cafeteria about his own family’s painful experience: his younger brother committed suicide at the age of 24 after a struggle with substance abuse that began while he was in his teens.
“I rarely talk about his suicide,” Langley told students. He said he was sharing his story, however, “because I miss him every day.”
The DARE program has changed over the years, from one focused mainly on talking about drugs and alcohol to a program that is focused on how to make good, safe and healthy decisions when faced with hard choices.
While DARE still stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, Officer Shawn Merchant explained it is also an acronym for Define, Assess, Respond and Evaluate, as a way to make decisions.
Langley said that is a good approach, because it is inevitable that students will be faced with difficult choices of one kind or another throughout life, especially as they grow into adulthood.
“You have all the tools that you need, but you have to practice them,” Langley said.
Langley told students that in reading his brother’s journal after his death, he learned his brother felt alone and that no one cared about him. Langley said students should know that is not the case, and that they can call on their teachers, parents, police officers or others if they are in need of help — because all of the adults care about them.
“You are in charge, ultimately, of your own life, but you’re not alone,” he said.
Langley also said students should keep an eye on others, and be there for them if they are in need.
“When you see your friends struggling, be there for them,” he said. “If you all look out for each other and are not afraid to speak up when you know something is wrong, you’ll be a powerful force.”
Police Chief Glenn Moshier said he thinks DARE is “a great program,” one he would like to expand in the city’s schools if possible. He said the revamped approach with DARE is “more effective than the mantra of ‘Just say no to drugs.’”
“I think it’s worthwhile and kids seem to get a lot out of it,” said Moshier, who complimented Merchant on his work with the program.