DARE Program Touches Immaculate Heart Classes

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Congratulations to the 55 sixth-graders and 77 eighth-graders at Immaculate Heart of Mary School who successfully completed the 10-week DARE -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- program.

Their accomplishment was celebrated at a DARE graduation ceremony where each student was called to the stage to receive their certificate from Claude Nelson, DARE instructor and Maryland coordinator of the Maryland program, and Nicole Ortiz, Miss Maryland USA 2009.

A group of students received special recognition.

Eighth-graders Joseph Baker, Joseph Hood and Colby Ann Russell and sixth-graders Dylan Dixon and Cole Macek received the Top Gun Award for students who exemplify the skills and ideals that DARE promotes, such as the courage to do the right thing, respect, fortitude and responsibility.

Sixth-graders were eligible for several additional awards. Mia Coulbourne, Dylan Dixon, Nakai Mariette and Ian Whalen won awards for winning essays on the effect of the DARE program in their lives.

Andrew Barker, Joseph Slovick and Mumbi Wainaina won the DARE Ace Award for scoring 100 percent on the final test.

Amanda Ellis received the DARE role model award.

Mark Vernarelli, director of public information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services; Kathy Zoppo, DARE program coordinator and teacher; Principal Amy Belz and the Rev. Michael Carrion offered congratulations to the students.

Immaculate Heart of Mary School has been using the DARE program since the early 1990s. The program, which uses role- playing and other educational techniques, seems to have been informative and well received.

Student Joel Rasinski said the DARE program taught him that, "it's important to talk about bullying and drugs." And Logan Moore learned that "you don't always have to do what your friends do or say. You can make your own decisions."

"DARE gave us ways to be in charge," Joey Slovick said.

Victor Presti said, "I learned what a good friend would do and a bad friend would do if you were in a bad situation."

Ortiz spoke to the students of her challenges and triumph over an eating disorder. That impressed sixth-grader Katelyn Ziegler, who said, "I learned that you can catch your dream even if you're behind everyone else."

The success of the program is at least in part because of Nelson.

"We had a great teacher," sixth-grader Madison Williams said.

Two other students, Robert Fite and Thomas Preziosi, said Nelson was their favorite part of the program.

Nelson, a retired Baltimore County police officer, has been involved with DARE since its inception in Maryland in 1986. He has trained other instructors internationally and taught more than 13,000 students and parents.