More than 400 people attended the Tamaqua Area D.A.R.E., Drug Abuse Resistance Education, graduation held recently at the Tamaqua High School Auditorium in support of the students' completion of their 10-week program.

The 10-week DARE curriculum is taught to all fifth grade students in the Tamaqua Area School District and St. Jerome's Regional School. More than 180 students graduated from the program.

The program is coordinated via teachers and the Tamaqua, West Penn and Rush Township police departments, includes the annual DARE Challenge, weekly programs; additional instruction at the seventh grade level; school wide assemblies for Tamaqua Area, Marian High School and St. Jerome's students; scholarship program and graduation for fifth grade students.

During the graduation program, top essay winners were given the opportunity to read their essays.

Top eight essay winners from the Tamaqua Elementary School were Katelyn Sprenkle from Tamaqua's Mrs. Faust's class, Faith Roberts from Mrs. Feliciano's class, Amy Hadesty from Mrs. Ingraham's class, Cassidy Derr from Mr. Peter's class and Tyrone Rarick from Mrs. Setser's class.

From West Penn were Bradley Clemson from Mrs. Bittner's class and Aaron Wargula from Mr. Gombar's class. From St. Jerome's was Christian Slane from Mrs. Robert's class.

Specially trained and motivated DARE Police Officers and coaches that take a big part in the program were Tamaqua Police Department Officers Corporal Dwayne Hacker, patrolman Michael Hobbs and West Penn Township Police Department patrolman Jason Lorah.

The 2010-2009 DARE Steering Committee consisting of volunteers, parents, teachers, and police officers from Tamaqua, Hometown, and West Penn organized the event. A magic and educational presentation was also given by motivational and youth speaker James Warren via his "Magic with a Message" program.

State budget cuts over the past few years meant the DARE Steering Committee had to become their own cheerleaders and financial backers. Such is the case again this year, when the committee must depend on the generosity of the public in order to continue trying to positively impact the younger generation. Anyone interested in donating or volunteering with the DARE program is encouraged to call 570-668-5000 or 570-691-1091.

The program has worked hand-in-hand with both the Tamaqua Area School District and St Jerome Regional School since 1990. In 1992, the steering committee was formed to assist the police officers with DARE related activities. Since that time, the DARE program has grown to include supplemental instruction at the seventh grade level.

Special thanks was extended to the Borough of Tamaqua, West Penn and Rush townships for providing the DARE officers, Board of Education, and all the administrators and teachers of the schools. I

n addition, a final appreciation was given to student volunteers Wes Konsavage, Ray Ohart and parents that supported their kids during the program. Appreciation was also given to a large number of local businesses, fire companies and organizations, to include Air Products, who donate hundreds of balloons annually for the graduation.

Committee member Lisa Shilko, a long-time volunteer, previously said, "The DARE program teaches students so many important things. The best result of this program is the connection and bond the students develop with police officers. The constant close interaction and motivation promotes trust and comfort towards the officers. This will make it easier as the students grow older. The increase in parental involvement has been a great asset to the program."