Point Higins 6th grade D.A.R.E. graduation ceremony

Sixth-graders gather for a portrait on Jan. 15 following a D.A.R.E. graduation ceremony at Point Higgins Elementary School. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

A group of sixth-graders at Pt. Higgins Elementary School recently became the first students in Ketchikan complete a D.A.R.E program designed to help them say no to drugs, alcohol and dangerous decisions.

 During a small “graduation” event Wednesday in the Pt. Higgins student commons, students shook hands with Ketchikan Police Department officer Daryl Nichols and received a certificate of completion for finishing the D.A.R.E program.

D.A.R.E stands for “drug and alcohol resistance education,” and is also named for the “define, assess, report and evaluate” decision-making model that students in the program are encouraged to use before making potentially harmful choices, such as underage drinking or bullying.

D.A.R.E. began from an idea developed by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1983, Nichols explained to a small audience before the event began. The LAPD wanted the school district to develop curriculum that would allow officers to come into schools and connect with students.

 “It’s all about making safe, responsible decisions, to give you the life skills and the tools on your tool belt to a productive, positive young adult as you go through life, as you become an adolescent (and) go into adulthood,” Nichols explained to the assembled students before the event began.

The Pt. Higgins students completed the program in 10 weeks, undergoing one lesson a week from Nichols, the resource officer for the Ketchikan School District.

While Nichols has been teaching the curriculum since 1990, he had never taught the program in the First City before this school year.

“The opportunity for me to get a chance to come and teach the D.A.R.E program in Ketchikan is very surreal for me,” Nichols told the students.

After Nichols finished explaining the program’s purpose to the crowd, he welcomed each student to the stage individually, with the help of Principal Steven McLaren and teachers Marisa Frey and Kendra Standley.

Standley and Frey each read off students’ names from a list, and watched as they jogged to the front of the room to shake Nichols’ hand and return to their seats with a personalized certificate of achievement.

After each student received their certificate there came a roar of applause and laughter. By the time that each student had taken their seat again, Nichols explained there was one more part of the event.

Each of the sixth-graders had been assigned to write an essay detailing what they learned in from the program.

While Nichols said that the students would not be forced to read their papers, two students came forward to share what they thought about the program.

“I am glad that I got the opportunity to learn about D.A.R.E from officer Daryl Nichols,” one student read.

“Going through the D.A.R.E program, I learned some things that I did not know,” a second student shared.

Additionally, four students were given gift bags from teachers Frey and Standley as recognition for their essays.

At the end of the event, Nichols reminded students of what they learned in the program.

“We want to be strong,” Nichols said. “We want to be proud of who we are and what we are.”

He also emphasized that the students were the first class in the First City to complete the program.

“So it was an awesome opportunity for me to come and hang out with you guys,” he said. “You were the first group and you will always be the first group who completed the program in Ketchikan.”

Many of the students dispersed to enjoy a pizza party after the event ended, but some meandered through the commons and shared what they enjoyed about the program with the Daily News.

“I just think it was nice to be able to come and just learn about that stuff, just because some people don’t know how to deal with certain situations,” said student Kate Thomas.

Chloe Larna enjoyed that her classmates could share their thoughts.

“I really liked that, because some people don’t have help when they’re struggling with situations at home or something, the fact that he came and taught us about it in case kids didn’t feel comfortable talking about it with their parents or something, so they had someone to talk to,” Larna explained.

Bristol Albrant felt similar to Larna.

“I think it’s pretty nice that we have someone to talk to if we’re going through any problems, and that it teaches us what we might do in situations,” Albrant said.

Grace Sanders enjoyed watching the videos that were included in the program, as well as identifying and completing the practice problems that were part of the curriculum.

“I think it’s helpful for when you’re in middle school and high school, so if you see people drinking or doing something bad, you’ll be able to define, assess, report and evaluate it,” Sanders said.

Sanders’ classmate Milla Kinunen said that “figuring things out” was her favorite part about the program.

 “It makes you think about things more, like when you come across challenges,” Kinunen explained.

New Pt. Higgins student JoJo Robinson said that she thought it “was nice to have a program like this.”