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Returning D.A.R.E. educator, officer Daaron Hansen with the Spencer Police Department, addressed the 2019 D.A.R.E. class, their family and friends calling his participation with the program “the best part of his job.”

Lincoln Elementary fifth-grade student Drew Piercy was selected as the top essayist for the D.A.R.E. 2019 class. He received a $50 cash prize, gift certificates and his essay will be entered in the state D.A.R.E. essay competition.

D.A.R.E. educator Lt. Kyle Van Otterloo, with the Spencer Police Department, congratulated one of the more than 180 2019 D.A.R.E. graduates with a fist bump Friday [March 22] morning at Spencer Middle School.

D.A.R.E. program graduates more than 180 local students

Teaching students to avoid alcohol, tobacco and drug use — that has the been the primary focus of the D.A.R.E. program for more than 30 years. [On] Friday [March 22] more than 180 fifth-grade students from Iowa Great Lakes Lutheran School, Lincoln Elementary and Sacred Heart Catholic School gathered in the Spencer Middle School gym to celebrate the completion of the curriculum which is designed to prepare them to make healthy choices throughout their lives.

“When I first started (we focused) a lot about drugs and alcohol and tobacco use and mostly only on those topics,” said Lt. Kyle Van Otterloo, D.A.R.E. educator with the Spencer Police Department. “It really only pertained to those topics. What we talk about now in class actually pertains to life. … Think about as a parent, what are you doing? Think about as a grandparent or an aunt or uncle, our kids are watching you constantly.

He added, “Who’s No. 1? You guys are. I know sometimes we raise our kids, and we should raise our kids, to think of others, but the philosophy I taught these kids this year is that you guys are No. 1. … You’ve got to keep No. 1 safe and that’s you guys.”

D.A.R.E. stands for drug abuse resistance education. Part of the healthy living focus of the curriculum includes lessons on dealing with peer pressure, building listening skills and strategies to help students avoid bullying. This year Spencer Police Department Officer Daaron Hansen returned to D.A.R.E. education splitting the eight fifth-grade classes with Van Otterloo.

“I challenged my kids to think outside the box a little bit because some of these problems are pretty easy, there is an obvious problem in these scenarios,” Hansen said. “Some of the answers they give just blow me away, and I’ll ask the teacher, ‘Have you guys talked about some of this stuff.’ Some of it they have and some of it they haven’t, but when I hear those answers, it really makes me feel good as far as our youth and where they are. How smart they are. They are watching and they are listening.”

Eight students were selected to represent each graduating class by reading an essay they prepared about the program’s impact aloud to the audience. Anna Stanbro, Drew Piercy, Kylee Block, Shelby Brehm, Blaine Erdman and Ethan Hass of Lincoln Elementary; and Isaac Rustad of Iowa Great Lakes Lutheran School; Alivia Pierce of Sacred Heart Catholic School read their selections highlighting strategies they learned for resisting peer pressure, reasons to avoid drug and alcohol use and personal stories of how drugs and alcohol have affected their lives. Piercy was selected to represent the entire D.A.R.E. class for his essay which addressed the relationship between mistakes and bad choices.

Following the essayists, Iowa Department of Public Safety special agent Nathan Ewalt delivered prepared remarks to the students and audience members as the program’s guest speaker. Ewalt serves in the narcotics divisions, and his duties include conducting covert and overt narcotics investigations in western Iowa. Ewalt used the podium to highlight the importance of the education component of D.A.R.E., and how what the students have learned might assist them in helping someone else in the future.

“A few things you should be learning: respect for others and yourselves, good decision-making skills, responsibility and consequences, not being afraid to ask for help, not being afraid to fail and setting goals,” Ewalt said. “… In 23 years of law enforcement, I’ve seen the worst in people. I have seen really bad things, but I have also seen really great things. I’ve seen the best in people as far as helping one another. As you get older, you may be the person helping somebody who is struggling with addiction, crisis, whatever. You might be the one trying to help them respect themselves.”

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