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CORDOVA — More than 80 fifth-graders at Bankhead Middle School graduated from the D.A.R.E. program on Tuesday, after Cordova Police Officer Ray Goggans led the 10-week substance abuse prevention education program.

The school has not hosted the D.A.R.E. program in at least four years, according to Principal Amber Freeman.

“It gives them the skills to deal with difficult situations. It gives them some opportunities to think about what to do when they’re asked to do something they shouldn’t,” Freeman said.

Bringing D.A.R.E. back to BMS was a collaborative effort of the City of Cordova and the Walker County Board of Education.

Goggans has been serving as a school resource officer at Cordova’s three schools since August.

His salary is paid by the city, but the school board paid for him to attend a two-week D.A.R.E. training course.

While the current D.A.R.E. curriculum does emphasize the dangers of drug use, Goggans told parents gathered for the graduation that their children learned other useful information.

“It teaches them how to deal with stressful situations. We get into cyberbullying. It used to be just trying to teach kids to say no to drugs, alcohol and tobacco, but it has really advanced much further than that,” Goggans said.

The meaning of the D.A.R.E. acronym has changed to reflect the new curriculum. In addition to Drug Abuse Resistance Education, students learned that D.A.R.E. also stands for Define, Assess, Respond and Evaluate.

Ethan Pair, Lexi Finalyson and Daisha Dove were selected to read their essays detailing what they learned from D.A.R.E. at the graduation ceremony.

Walker County Schools Superintendent Jason Adkins attended the ceremony, along with four members of the Cordova Police Department and Cordova City Councilman Larry Sides.

Adkins told the students he was proud of them for being willing to talk about an uncomfortable subject like substance abuse.

“I would never judge anyone who has participated in negative things because we all have, and drugs are part of that. There are some really good people who have succumbed to that pressure for one reason or another. We don’t judge them, but I think they would tell you to make good decisions so you can maximize your time,” Adkins said.

Adkins also encouraged students to remember what they have learned as they transition through their middle and high school years.

“Research says those are times that you’re vulnerable because you get a little uncomfortable and you are trying to fit in. People will come along who will influence your life for good and bad. You have to maintain a good decision-making process so you can have circumstances that are beneficial to you,” Adkins said.

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