By Barbara High
Tribune Staff Writer
KEYSER- It should have been a joyous time; another year of DARE graduations with all the faces of the young fifth graders excited for their parents to see them get their certificates and to show them what they have learned.
Parents also fondly remember this time as when their kids actually came home from school excited to tell them about their day and a few parents inevitably got the Lecture: "Do you know smoking will kill you?"
This week's graduation at Keyser Primary-Middle School had a tone much different from the previous DARE graduations over the last 22 years, however. This year there was a sadness to everyone in the room old enough to understand that this may very well be the last year for the DARE program.
The fifth graders that graduated on Tuesday may be the last class to ever graduate.
Craig Fraley, the outgoing sheriff of Mineral County who has been teaching DARE for 22 years in Mineral County, will not be employed by the Mineral County Sheriff's Department after Jan. 1. He is currently the only one who is trained for the DARE program.
With the future of the DARE program therefore uncertain, many people at KPMS found it hard to cheerful. Fraley did his best for everyone as he took the stage to a deafening round of applause.
He talked about today being a day of celebration. "We celebrate the accomplishments of this group of fifth grade students; we have completed a ten-week program that I hope will help them make wise decisions in their lives."
Fraley told the students how the program started in 1983 in Los Angeles, Calif., when students using drugs before school walked into their classroom and collapsed on the floor and died in front of their classmates. He told the students that three entities came together to form DARE at that time - the parents, the schools, and the police.
Mineral County started the program in 1991, and Fraley has been teaching it for 22 years.
He told the graduating class that Yogi Bear was the first mascot, but the character kept stealing picnic baskets so the DARE program replaced the cartoon character with Daren the Lion. Fraley told the students, "That shows just how important your decisions really are."
Fraley told everyone in attendance Tuesday that the DARE program is a great program with a powerful message, but a program alone cannot stop kids from making wrong choices.
"The DARE program is effective and it does what it is supposed to do, but it cannot work alone. Parents play a major role in preparing children to make good choices," he said.
"As parents, we are the ones who place the road sign and provide maps that will prevent our kids from taking wrong turns on the road to life.
Page 2 of 3 - "Our children are our most valuable resources and it is a shame when they don't use what they have or waste it on risky behaviors that get them in trouble. And when our children die as a result of these risky behaviors, it is even more distressing," he said.
This is not just a "Just say No" program, he emphasized. "It's the Decision Making Model that helps these kids understand what is needed to make a good decision - whether that is taking out the trash, cleaning their rooms, or doing their homework, it's all about making good decisions.
"I have been with this program since the beginning and even today I have past students come up to me and thank me and tell me where they are in their life," said Fraley. "They introduce me to their children and tell them, this is Officer Fraley, he taught me how to make good choices in life."
Fraley told the group that there was three teachers their at the school who were DARE graduates, and they even brought in their certificates to show the kids. Fraley also said he currently had four deputies that work for him right now that were past DARE graduates. Fraley joked with those in attendance, saying that it made him feel old as dirt.
Fraley said. "I stand in front of you today with mixed emotions. As I look out over these students, I see potential leaders of our next generation. I hope that the decisions they make from this day on are good decisions, and they will accomplish much in their lives."
He also gave a warning, "I tell all the students that I come into contact with, ' there are no guarantees in life,' even now as I end my career here in Mineral County and this programs ends, I hope that the changes to come will be good ones and that whatever programs that come behind this one will help the kids of the future."
He said that even in the absence of a program, parents and grandparents can help to teach the kids how to make good decisions.
Fraley addressed the students one more time saying, "As for you, the graduates of today's last DARE graduating class, you leave today not as DARE students, but as teachers of tomorrow. Younger kids are looking at you and what you are doing. Make sure they see a positive role model," he said.
As the students cheered, Fraley began announcing the winners of the participation awards. He said these students had finished all their book, even completed the extra activities, and had great participation in the program. The winners were: Prema Baughman, Karleigh Smith, Amy Whetzel, Jackson Biser, Latrell Brook, Hayley Patton, Alaina Kiser, Maddison McKenzie, Peighton Tranum, Reagan Andrews, Taylor Pagayoya, Hailey Rotruck, Gabriella Baker, Aislinn Crites, and Deeatra Hilliard.
Page 3 of 3 - Also presented were the essay awards for the top three essays. The students wrote an essay about what they learned from the program. The top three essay authors were Jocelyn Ravenscroft, first place, Clarissa Ravenscroft, second place, and Madyson Rayner, third place.
Also chosen was an outstanding student. This is someone who excelled in all categories, and winning this was Aaron Lyons.
Fraley also presented bags and T-shirts to all the teacher of the fifth grade classes.
At the end of the ceremony, the teachers and principal Mary Racey called Fraley to the stage, and as the kids chanted "Fraley, Fraley" he was given a banner that the student had signed along with a giant thank you card and a cake.
Racey said, "Sadly this maybe the last group." She also said she did not want to loose this wonderful program.
As the kids were dismissed and it looked as if the last DARE graduation ever was over, Fraley began to tear down his DARE banners and supplies to be packed away for the last time. It was then that the students - wearing their DARE t-shirts or the DARE colors - began to pour in, making it look like a sea of black and red. Former students and teachers alike came in to the room wearing their DARE shirts they had earned at their own graduation, while others even younger came wearing just the colors of a program they would never get.
One by one they thanked Fraley for all he has done over the years, and for what he had taught them. Students lined up to give him cards they had made for him, or just to get a hug. Parents were asking if they could take a picture of him with their kids. It was an emotionally charged moment for everyone, including Fraley, who said it was great to have such support.
"It has been a great program and I have enjoyed teaching it so much," he said.