Last week was a week to celebrate as 17 students from St. Joseph's Regional Academy in Jim Thorpe pledged to remain drug and violence free.

During the annual D.A.R.E. graduation on April 6, the fifth grade students listened as their D.A.R.E. instructor, Lt. David Midas of the Carbon County Sheriff's department, as well as Assistant District Attorney Jean Engler, Carbon County Sheriff Dwight Nothstein and Jim Thorpe Police Chief Joseph Schatz, congratulated them on a job well done.

Midas said that he was honored and blessed for being allowed to teach the students at St. Joseph's.

"We're here today to celebrate," Midas said. "Everyone should be proud of these 17 students. Over the past nine weeks they worked very hard to learn to say 'no' to drugs and peer pressure. I hope you consider yourselves role models. You need to be very proud."

He explained to other students and parents in attendance that the D.A.R.E. program is a nine-week training course, started in 1985, that teaches students about the effects drugs and alcohol have on a person, as well as how to say no if someone tries to pressure them into trying drugs. The D.A.R.E. program began in Jim Thorpe in 1999.

Midas added that over the last few years, funding has become an issue, but donations from area organizations, such as Kresge Electric and Leztek Computers who were present at the graduation, have helped keep the program at St. Joseph's alive. Other sponsors of the D.A.R.E. program in Jim Thorpe include the Jim Thorpe Area School District, Carbon County District Attorney Gary Dobias, county treasurer Ronald Sheehan, the Jim Thorpe Police Department, and the Carbon County Sheriff's Office.

Midas then introduced Engler, Nothstein and Schatz.

Engler congratulated the class for completing the course and explained what the district attorney's office does to keep the children safe from criminals.

She noted that 75 percent of the cases her office handles deals with drugs and alcohol to some degree.

She added that the D.A.R.E. program has given the students the basis to lead a successful and upstanding life.

"All of you will be faced with tough decisions," Engler said. "The decisions you make at a young age can affect the rest of your life. If you are a standout students who stands up and says 'no' in bad situations, you will be a standout adult as well."

Nothstein, who taught the D.A.R.E. program in Jim Thorpe for four years, then addressed the graduates and parents, saying that he was happy to see that the parents are supporting their children.

"I'm very proud of this group," he said, adding that the students are trying their best.

He thanked the sponsors and teachers for believing in the program and then asked the students to always "believe in yourself."

Nothstein ended by commending the students on a job well done.

Schatz, who is also a D.A.R.E. instructor at L.B. Morris Elementary in Jim Thorpe, then spoke to the students and parents.

He thanked the parents for supporting their children because without that support, programs such as D.A.R.E. would not be as successful.

Schatz also spoke of his time as a student at St. Joseph's and urged this children to make the right choices in life and say no to drugs.

"Kids, make sure you make the right choices. If you do you will succeed," Schatz said. "Parents, it's important to talk to your children about their choices."

He ended by inviting parents to a drug awareness program on Wednesday, April 13, at 7 p.m. at Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall.

Following the speakers, Jack Malay, the essay winner of the graduating class, read his D.A.R.E. essay. He received a Darren the D.A.R.E. Lion, the mascot of the program, and a water bottle as a prize.

Diplomas were then given out to the graduates. This year's D.A.R.E. graduates are Hailey Andrejco, Kobie Arndt, Lauren Babinetz, Regan Carroll, Regina Cullen, Jacob Dembinski, Madison Dembinski, Samual Diaz, Giovanna Digilio, Kira Green, Skye Kardane, Jack Malay, Alexandra McGinley, Alyssa Neville, Jacob Newton, Molly Sheridan and Tyler Zakrewski.

Midas then concluded the graduation program by thanking everyone for attending the event and supporting the D.A.R.E. program.

"Remember you are leaders and role models of the D.A.R.E. program," he said, adding that the students could contact him at any time if they need help or have questions.

The graduating class was then treated to a pizza party.