Parents and members of the community gathered Wednesday at SS. Peter and Paul School to celebrate the DARE graduation of the school's fifth and sixth grade students.

The program was lead by DARE instructor Lieutenant David Midas of the Carbon County Sheriff's Office.

The DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program is a national and international program that is led by police offers and teaches children how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug- and violence-free lives.

"This program is not just about drugs and alcohol," said Midas. "We talk about identifying good friends. We talk about peer pressure. We also talk about how to be safe in the home and in the community."

Guest speakers included Carbon County Court Judge Steven R. Serfass and Lehighton Chief of Police Neil Ebbert.

"DARE education is probably as important as any subject we teach in our schools," said Serfass. "DARE is about making smart choices as you face tough decisions and you will face tough decisions in the coming years."

Serfass noted that about 75 percent of the cases he hears deal with drugs or alcohol in some way.

"To achieve your dreams, you need to be drug and alcohol free," he said. "We're very proud of you, and you should be very proud of yourselves."

Also speaking was the graduates' fifth and sixth grade teacher, Jennifer Lorenz.

"The next 8 to 9 years will be the scariest challenge yet," said Lorenz, addressing the parents. "Because of what we have learned in DARE, these students are ready to face that challenge. I know that they are going to take the lessons they've learned and apply them to everyday life."

Lorenz noted that bags, donated by parents and filled with DARE materials and a soccer ball, basketball, or other athletic equipment, would be given to each graduate. These bags were meant to remind the students to stay active and to make good choices.

During the graduation program, Midas also recognized the winners of the school's DARE essay contest. Winners were Katherine Aaron, fifth grade, and Caleb Kovach, sixth grade.

"Each and every essay was fantastic," he added. "It shows me that all of the graduates understand the information from DARE, and are ready to apply it to everyday life."

The DARE program was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles. Midas noted that in recent years, many schools have eliminated DARE education due to state and local education budget cuts. SS. Peter and Paul was able to bring the 9-week DARE program back to their school through funding by community sponsors.

"It's thanks to our community sponsors that we are able to be here," he said. Sponsors included Zimmerman's Dairy, Andrew Ovsak Funeral Home, RAPA Law Offices, Andreas Plumbing and Heating, Snyder Tire, the offices of Dr. Joseph McGinley and Dr. Patrick Hanley, and the District Attorney's office.

Graduates from the SS. Peter and Paul DARE program included Katherine Aaron, Victoria Barthold, Amber Curran, Michael "Connor" Hanley, Drew Lorenz, and Gina Piccioni, fifth grade; Zachary Andrews, Ji Young Choi, Sarah Giordano, Tatiana Gonzalez, Caleb Kovach, Courtney Kovatch, Robert Kuznicki, Grace Lorenz, Joseph McGinley, Emily Moore, and Galilea Villagomz, sixth grade.