Just over 170 fifth grade students from three Tamaqua area schools graduated from the DARE program during a graduation ceremony held Thursday night in the Tamaqua Area School District auditorium. During the program, the graduates, from Tamaqua, West Penn and St. Jerome's elementary schools, and their families were treated to words of advice from speakers, listening to top essay winners and even a magic show.

During the program, St. Jerome Elementary School Principal spent a good time expressing the importance of the graduates to always remember the lessons learned.

Top essay winners were also given the opportunity read their essays in front of everyone. They were Logan Hartney, Lauren Marcella, Jenn Frederickson, Jamie Zuber, Delaney Renn, Rebekah Hromyak and Emma Coccio. Reading her essay, Hartney stressed the D.AR.E .(Drug Abuse Resistance Education) learning model.

Coccio's essay talked about what they learned during the program. Marcella said the program teaches students how to make important decisions in life. Frederickson told students the program taught students to be responsible for their actions. Zuber's essay simply stated to "keep it real" by being confident and making smart choices. Renn expressed that the program provides students the life skills when dealing with drugs, alcohol and bullying. The last essay, done by Hromyak, went into detail regarding the many health effects of drugs and alcohol. Hromyak also stressed the importance of looking out for others and helping friends.

In order to graduate, all participating 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, which has been in the Tamaqua Area School District and St. Jerome's Regional School since 1990, is coordinated via teachers and Tamaqua, West Penn and Rush Township police departments.

The program 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.

In 1992, the Tamaqua Area D.A.R.E. Steering Committee was formed to assist the police officers with program related activities. Since that time, the program has expanded to include supplemental D.A.R.E. instruction at the 7th grade level.

Last month the stearing committee sponsored the 19th annual D.A.R.E. Challenge for all 5th grade participants.

The 2012-2013 DARE Steering Committee consisting of volunteers, parents, teachers, and police officers from Tamaqua, Hometown, and West Penn organized the event. They included Michele Bittner, George Demetriades, Rochelle Evanousky, J.J. Fasnacht, Duane Frederick, Janet Greenberg, Mary Gurcsik, Cathy Klingaman, Kerri Quick, Lisa Shilko, Helen Walters and Olga Williams.

The officers that took part in this year's program consisted of West Penn Police officer Sergeant Jason Lorah and Tamaqua police officers Matt Hobbs and Corporal Dwayne Hacker. They also served as steering committee members.

During the graduation program, everyone was treated to a magic show by motivational youth speaker and performer James Warren 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.

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.

Also speaking during the graduation was Mr. James Fasnacht, Principal, Tamaqua Elementary Schools, who expressed the importance of making good decisions early in life.

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."

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

Anyone interested in donating or volunteering with the DARE program is encouraged to call (570) 668-5000 or (570) 691-1091.