Her fingers crossed for good luck, Ali Fleming sat on the multi-purpose room floor of Fremont Elementary School Monday morning as Carson City Sheriff's Deputy Dean Williams announced the fifth-grade essay winners of the sheriff's office Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or DARE.
"I wanted to win," Ali said. "I never win a contest."
Her schoolmates Genevieve Macias, 10, Andrew Mercer, 11, and Mariah Hartley, 10, received honorable mentions and a DARE carry-all bag filled with goodies, including a basketball, for their essays.
Christina Groso, 10, was awarded a $50 Wal-Mart gift certificate for her second-place essay about what she learned in the program. Caity Oleson, 10, earned a $300 gift certificate to ComputerCorps in Carson City for her first-place essay. Essays will be published in the Dec. 4 edition of the Nevada Appeal.
"This was a great graduation," said Williams. "It was the first class we've had graduate. I didn't know what to expect."
In the past couple months, Williams has taught the four fifth-grade classes at Fremont about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana in 45-minute segments once a week.
Students analyzed tobacco ads, were taught a decision-making model useful in critical situations and learned to say no to friends and acquaintances pressuring them to do something they didn't want to do.
"(The program's) important just because in case you see a bigger brother or brother's friend smoking," said 10-year-old Juan Quijas. "The DARE program can show you how it affects your body. Even though it's hard to say no, it's worth it."
Cayze Velez, 10, sat next to him.
"Drugs are very bad for you," he said. "There's thousands of different drugs and they kill 40,000 people a year."
The drug and alcohol education program was re-implemented in district schools this year after Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong insisted a proven drug-resistance curriculum be provided to students.
The program ended about four years ago under former Sheriff Rod Banister. Teachers complained the program cut into classroom time, but according to Detective Cate Grayson, who taught the program then, the program also had no grant funding and the sheriff's office lacked extra people for the program due to the growing community.
"It's been long waited for," said Furlong. "It's critical, because these kids go into middle school next. In Carson City, it's a huge imperative to reach the kids. This is where they start making decisions and we want to be a part of it."
In December, fifth-graders from Fritsch and Mark Twain elementary schools will graduate from the program. Williams will begin the curriculum with fifth-graders at Seeliger, Empire and Bordewich-Bray elementary schools in the spring.
The fifth-graders at Fremont, the first to graduate from the program, received a certificate and a Polaroid with Williams and Furlong on Monday.
Although Ali did not receive an award, she said she did have a lot of fun in the program and learned how to make smart choices.
"You can always help people " she said. "Even if they're not your friends, you can say no and stuff like that."
Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.