D.A.R.E. grads receive goodie bags and congratulations from community leaders.

In the 1980s political leaders attempted to address the drug crisis among youth with a simple answer to a complex problem: “Just say No!” Programs like D.A.R.E sprung up across the nation, which was the acronym for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

Government agencies and police departments adapted the program and took it to schools.

“We soon realized that ‘just say no’ and scare tactics of what will happen if you don’t were just too simplistic and weren’t teaching anyone anything,” said Soldotna Police Department officer Tobin Brennan, who has headed up the D.A.R.E. program in the Soldotna area.

“So we moved to a life skills, decision making program instead to give kids steps they can follow to make the best decisions possible,” Brennan told those who gathered March 2 at the Soldotna High School auditorium for the 2018 D.A.R.E. graduation ceremony and all night lock-in.

Fifth-grade classes from Soldotna Elementary, Kalifornsky Beach Elementary and Redoubt Elementary participated in the 10-week D.A.R.E. program this year with 150 students completing the curriculum and eligible to graduate. Each student writes an essay on what they learned through the program. One essay is selected from each participating class and from the top 6, one is selected for top honors and the grand prize of a new mountain bike, compliments of the Soldotna Rotary Club and Beemun’s Variety.

“The essays are very impressive and certainly show advanced writing skills at that age. It makes for wonderful reading,” said Brennan.

According to Brennan during the 10-week course the students get the opportunity to work through real life situations they may be facing.

“I share with them real stories about my life and my family and mistakes and bad choices that I have made, things they can relate to and then how I worked through those choices. Then I have them work in pairs and groups and deal with situations that other fifth-graders have and that they have faced and show them that there are both negative and positive consequences to just about any decision and how to deal with it afterwards,” he explained.

The kids also have a workbook they have to do during each class and have to conduct an interview with a family member. D.A.R.E. envisions a world in which students everywhere are empowered to respect others and choose to lead lives free from violence, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors.

This year’s top essay winner was Riley Novak from Ms. Clayton’s fifth-grade class at K-Beach Elementary.


Dr. Matt Pyhala of Soldotna Rotary, along with Soldotna police officer Tobin Brennan, presents D.A.R.E. essay winner Riley Novak with a new mountain bike.

“I was totally surprised, the kids in my class thought I’d get it, but I didn’t know. Winning the bike is really cool,” Riley told the Dispatch.

In her essay she confessed she wasn’t really looking forward to the D.A.R.E. classes and actually was dreading it.

“It was the way that Officer Brennan presented it that turned me around. He wasn’t intimidating and the way explained it in a carefree way got the message out to us in a way we could understand. The decision making tactics were very helpful and I will use them in my life,” she said.

The D.A.R.E. program is funded through the City of Soldotna.

“Our Chief and the City believe it is a very important program so they pay for the expenses of the workbooks and prizes and allow me the time to teach the program. Being here with these kids is without a doubt the best part of the year for me. I truly hope it makes a difference in their lives and will help them to have a positive outlook,” said Brennan.

The City of Kenai also supports a D.A.R.E. program for Kenai schools.

The Surgeon General reports that positive effects have been demonstrated regarding attitudes towards the police and that the program’s use of police officers in schools alleviates some children’s concerns about situations like school shootings and other threats of violence to children while at school.

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