More than 160 D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) graduating students from Tamaqua, West Penn and St Jerome's fifth grade elementary classes were treated to a magic show and graduation ceremony Thursday night in the Tamaqua Area School District auditorium.

To graduate, all 163 students had to complete a 10-week program taught at the school by Tamaqua and West Penn Police officers. The Tamaqua Area D.A.R.E. program is coordinated via teachers and Tamaqua, West Penn and Rush Township police departments and 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 chance to read their essays. Essay winners who read their essays during the graduation were Kayla Zamudio from Mrs. Ingraham's Tamaqua class, Nicholas Kernick from Mrs. Roberts' St. Jerome's class, Morgan Lusch from Mrs. Bittner's West Penn class, Luke Mateyak from Mr. Peters' Tamaqua class, Iris Picone from Mrs. Setser's Tamaqua class and Alicen Hull from Mrs. Faust's Tamaqua class.

The D.A.R.E. program has been a part of the Tamaqua Area School District and St. Jerome's Regional School since 1990. In 1992, the Tamaqua Area D.A.R.E. steering committee was formed to assist the police officers with DARE related activities. Since that time, the DARE program has expanded to include supplemental instruction at the 7th grade level.

This year, the committee sponsored the 18th annual D.A.R.E. Challenge for all 5th grade participants. The 2011-2012 DARE Steering Committee consisting of volunteers, parents, teachers, and police officers from Tamaqua, Hometown, and West Penn organized the event.

The officers that took part in this year's program consisted of West Penn Police officer Jason Lorah, and officers Matt Hobbs and Corporal Dwayne Hacker from the Tamaqua Police Department.

During the graduation program, everyone was treated to a magic show by motivational youth speaker and performer James Wagner called "Magic with a Message." While also entertaining the students and crowd, Warren spoke about the dangers of peer pressure, smoking, drugs, alcohol and substance abuse.

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.

Hacker, steering committee president, extended the committee's appreciation to the Borough of Tamaqua, West Penn and Rush townships for providing the DARE officers, Tamaqua Board of Education, parents and all the administrators and teachers of the schools.

In addition, final appreciations were 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 longtime 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 toward the officers."

Wagner told the graduates, "I dare you to carry the same amount of courage you have today for the rest of your life."