Twenty-four Tatum elementary school students graduated in April from the Lea County Sheriff’s Office’s first Drug Abuse Resistance Education program and fifth grader Lilianna Rojas won first place for the essay portion of the course.

According to LCSO Corporal Travis Hobbs, Rojas was selected as the winner of the essay portion of the class because in her essay she applied all of the concepts learned in the class.

“The essay comes out before the last week and we filter through all 24 graduates and they have to complete their workbooks and they compile it into an essay. Lilianna Rojas won the essay portion. This letter from a fifth grader, showed the program is really about the decision-making model and being able to process proper decision making. This was the one we selected as one of our top four. We brought all four before our upper administration and our chief deputies decided on Rojas,” LCSO Corporal Travis Hobbs said.

A snippet of Rojas’ essay reads:

“In my future I plan to make safe and responsible choices. For example, I plan to do all my chores, respect other people, and most importantly make sure myself and other stay drug free. The D.A.R.E program has a catch phrase we say at the end of class, it is, “Be safe and be responsible.” This means to make good decisions, stay away from drugs, and stay safe.”

The D.A.R.E program is a 10-week course that Deputy Cathy Carnes, Corporal Hobbs, and Deputy Luis Herrera teach students about responsible decision making, the dangers of drugs, and bullying.

“The whole program is a 10-week program. Myself, deputy Kathy Carnes, and deputy Luis Herrera go into the schools every week and each week is a building effect. Each item builds onto another. The first week is decision making and then we go into teaching about drugs and then we get into bullying… basically everything they’re going to see from fifth grade forward. At the end of the program we ask the students to write an essay about their thoughts and opinions about the program. Things that they will work and help them towards becoming young adults. The biggest thing we took away from this was they really paid attention to the bullying portion. There were a lot of personal stories from fifth graders who were bullying or were a victim and didn’t see from the eyes of the other person how it can affect them,” Hobbs said.

D.A.R.E first gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s in the Lea County area, but due to the program’s controversial nature, went by the wayside just a few years after starting.

“There was a loss with the program in the D.A.R.E structure. It wasn’t found to be effective and was more of a scare tactic than something that can benefit the kids. That’s why the counties and municipalities kind of strayed away from it here. The program was revamped several years ago… we teach things like responsible decision making, judgment, and how to say no in the 21st century,” Hobbs said.

According to Chief Deputy Fernando Jimenez, the idea for the program began when Hobbs brought it to Jimenez and then Sheriff Corey Helton. Helton, after hearing the idea, decided it was time to bring the program back because the need for D.A.R.E in the schools is still important.

“We need this back in the schools,” Helton said in a previous interview. “D.A.R.E is far more than drugs and alcohols. It’s about teaching confidence and manners and leadership. That’s what D.A.R.E is actually about.”

Three deputies and one Lovington Police Department school resource officer are trained in the 80-hour course and certified to teach the D.A.R.E curriculum: Deputy Cathy Carnes, Hobbs, Deputy Luis Herrera, and Lovington police officer Michael Cabello.

According to Hobbs, this class was the first D.A.R.E class to graduate in Lea County and was a first for the LCSO.

“This is the very first graduating class the sheriff’s office has ever had. We’ve never had a D.A.R.E program the sheriff’s office has facilitated. We were the first D.A.R.E officers in Lea County history,” Hobbs said.

“They have to go through an actual certification class to be apart of it,” Chief Deputy Fernando Jimenez explained. “(It’s) very extensive, it’s very hard, because they are going to be working with kids of all ages in schools.”

Though the program was set to begin in 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the first class didn’t get to graduate.

“We tried it in 2020, we started the D.A.R.E program and got two or three weeks into the program and COVID came and shut down all of the schools. We were excited, we started the D.A.R.E program for the very first time in 15 years and got shut down,” Hobbs explained. “That original first class didn’t get to graduate.”

Hobbs, Carnes, and Herrea will go to schools throughout Lea County. D.A.R.E provides a curriculum for kindergarten age through high school.

This is the only D.A.R.E. program in the region, Jimenez said. The next closest to Lea County is in the Las Cruces school district.

“It’s kind of fun to me because I actually went through the D.A.R.E program in Tatum when I was in grade school,” Jimenez said.

For the schools looking to get involved in the program, they can contact Chief Deputy Fernando Jimenez at 575-396-3611 or by email at [email protected].

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All Rights Reserved.