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Lauren Wilson, a Derby North Middle School student, said she was shocked to be announced as the statewide winner of the D.A.R.E. essay contest.

Lauren Wilson says she would have entered an essay contest for the statewide D.A.R.E. program even if it hadn’t been a requirement for her fifth-grade class at El Paso Elementary School.

“I would have done that one for choice. Especially something like that, for a good cause,” Lauren said.

Her enthusiasm paid off.

At a recent ceremony in Manhattan, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt presented Lauren as winner of the contest.

“I was shocked,” Lauren said. “I was really nervous that day. All my friends had my back. It was really crazy to hear my name.”

For her efforts, Lauren received a plaque and $100. Plus, of course, bragging rights.

Matt Liston, district safety security officer, said every student who participates in D.A.R.E. program nationally must complete an essay to graduate from the program. Liston served as the Derby Public Department’s school resource officer and D.A.R.E. supervisor until this past May.

Each school that participates in the program sent in a winning essay, “and her essay was selected from all fifth-graders in Kansas,” Liston said.

The D.A.R.E. program helps teach students to recognize and resist peer pressure to experiment with tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

“One of the things that we teach in D.A.R.E. now is define, assess, respond and evaluate,” Liston said. “It’s just a process to help them make decisions.”

Lauren, who will be attending Derby North Middle School, said the program helps “teach us something important that is coming up in our future.”

She likes writing and “took her time on the essay,” she said.

“I made sure it was nice and edited a lot,” she said.

Lauren said she used the define, assess, respond and evaluate technique on a situation in her own life.

“I had to choose between playing a computer game with all my friends or to work on a project that was an important part of my grade at school,” Lauren said. “These steps let me take the emotion out of my decision-making and to do what was best for myself. I finished the project and then had fun with my friends. That is one of the things that D.A.R.E. teaches and can be used in any situation. But the program is so much more than that. It could be life-threatening decisions as well. Do I take the drugs offered by people at a party or do I listen to friends and drink the alcohol? No, I define the situation, I assess what will be best for me and the choices available, I respond with my choice and I look back and evaluate the situation and see what I can change or do better in the future.”

Lauren’s mother, Kim, is a teacher at El Paso, and her father, Marc, is a retired officer with the Derby Police Department.

“I knew the gist of what the program was, but I learned a lot from Lauren because she got in there and learned the nuts and bolts of the program,” Marc Wilson said. “She actually taught me a lot about it.”

From Derby Informer