Closing the Book on D.A.R.E.
Although debates linger over its long-term effectiveness and what drug-prevention program will replace it, Suffolk County officially closed the book on the D.A.R.E. program as of January 2008. For continuity, however, students countywide—including Sayville—who were already enrolled in the D.A.R.E. program, were allowed to participate in culminating ceremonies.
Approximately three months prior, D.A.R.E. Officer Ralph Clanton renewed his fourteen-year tradition in Sayville and met with the Fifth-graders. Once a week at each of the elementary schools, he instructed students on important "life skill" strategies, on their rights and privileges, good decision-making, risk identification, peer-pressure resistance, self esteem, and personal-safety techniques to fend off unsafe behaviors. Over the duration of these lessons, the Sayville students again learned something beyond the important topics. They learned that a caring teacher can wear a law enforcement uniform.
Each D.A.R.E. graduation ceremony in the three elementary schools had different ways of expressing the same message: D.A.R.E. helped the students understand the dangers, challenges, and impact that drugs, alcohol, and violence could have in their futures. Each Principal (Mr. Stimmel, Mrs. Gunther, and Mrs. Castello) extolled Officer Ralph’s work and commitment. Sayville District Administrator Dr. Geri Sullivan Keck double dared the students to remain drug free. Suffolk County Legislator William Lindsay (or his representative) supported the D.A.R.E. message, and New York State Assemblywoman Ginny Fields awarded Officer Ralph a citation for his outstanding years of service to D.A.R.E.
For one last time, Officer Ralph stood at the podium on a decorated stage before a rapt audience of "graduating" Fifth-graders wearing D.A.R.E. T-shirts. Although he was ending fourteen years of teaching Sayville students about resisting drugs, alcohol, and violence, Officer Ralph remained upbeat, prepared to celebrate his students’ accomplishments and share in their enthusiasm. Yet, the undercurrent was nostalgic among the teachers, even bittersweet for many parents whose older children had participated in D.A.R.E. For them, saying goodbye to D.A.R.E. was saying farewell to Officer Ralph and the special bond of friendship.
After the students’ representative essays were read(see names, more photos and slide show at Highlights Online) and their diplomas awarded, the Cherry Avenue and Sunrise Drive students performed songs (Responsible and D.A.R.E. [to the music of YMCA], respectively) dedicated to Officer Ralph. At the Lincoln Avenue ceremony, the students handcrafted a book entitled Officer Ralph From A-Z which was viewed by the audience in a slideshow presentation. The original signed copy of the book was given to Officer Ralph as a parting gift.
When the last students filed out of the auditorium amid songs, shouts of congratulations, hugs, and well wishes, D.A.R.E. ended in Sayville. Whatever program replaces it, D.A.R.E. remains unique as the only health-awareness and wellness program taught by Police Officers in uniform. Especially for all the Sayville School District Fifth-graders, past and present, Officer Ralph Clanton will always be irreplaceable.
(click on the links below for slide presentations of each ceremony.)