Sarah Kate Tidwell urged her fellow fifth-graders to take the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program seriously and “use this information in the present and the future.”

The Tunnel Hill Elementary School student shared her winning essay — judged best out of approximately 1,000 written by fifth-graders from 13 Whitfield County schools — during the annual DARE essay recognition program sponsored by the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office and the Kiwanis Club of Dalton at the Dalton Convention Center on May 12.

Tidwell also received a medal, plaque and a $100 cash prize from the Kiwanis Club.

Also recognized during the program were Myrikal Lay, Pleasant Grove Elementary, second place and winner of a medal, plaque and a $50 cash prize; and McKenna Smith, Beaverdale Elementary, third place and winner of a medal, plaque and a $20 cash prize.

Individual winners from the 10 other schools were:

• Antioch Elementary: Margarita Cox

Cedar Ridge Elementary: Madelyn Meaux

Cohutta Elementary: Coker Gladson

Dawnville Elementary: Ariana Goodwin

Dug Gap Elementary: Edwin Franco

Eastside Elementary: Yessenia Botello

New Hope Elementary: Aliana Menjivar

Valley Point Elementary: Kailyn Blanco

Varnell Elementary: Ellie Teasley

Westside Elementary: Leah Din

Because last year’s recognition program had to be canceled because of the pandemic, the Kiwanis Club also recognized the 2020 winners at this year’s event, including Shayla Williams, Varnell Elementary, first place; Ally Jo Cook, Cohutta Elementary, second place; and Kylee Betty, Dug Gap Elementary, third place.

Individual winners from the 10 other schools in 2020 were:

Antioch Elementary: Fernando De Haro

Beaverdale Elementary: Waelyn Bailies

Cedar Ridge Elementary: Lesly Saldana

Dawnville Elementary: Sarah Wesley

Eastside Elementary: Adeliz Hernandez

New Hope Elementary: Brier Hall

Pleasant Grove Elementary: Mason Hunter

Tunnel Hill Elementary: Havyn Gleaton

Valley Point Elementary: Stephen Williams

Westside Elementary: Jennie Brooks

A special guest at the program was Coahulla Creek High School senior Jocelyn Torres, who won the DARE essay contest in 2014 as a fifth-grader at New Hope Elementary and will be attending college later this year. She shared her thoughts about the value of the DARE program, noting that she also grew up in a family “that takes life lessons very seriously.”

The 2021 winning DARE essay was written by Sarah Kate Tidwell of Tunnel Hill Elementary:

Did you know that there are more than 200 known harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke? DARE helps you make the right choices, tells you what to stay away from, reporting and more. DARE is very important because it prepares us for the future. The most valuable lessons in DARE to me are bullying, pressure and health effects which is what we will be talking about today. When you need to make a hard or important decision use the DDMM which stands for DARE Decision Making Model, which DARE stands for Define, Assess, Respond and Evaluate.

As you may and should know bullying is very harmful not just physically, but also emotionally. We’re also going to talk about how to report bullying for you, or even a friend. What is bullying you may ask? Bullying is when people are hurting you over and over, like every day, physically and emotionally. If someone was being mean and cruel once, it isn’t really considered bullying. But just because they’re not bullying you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report it to a trusted adult. You shouldn’t bully people, it can hurt them especially if you do it physically but emotionally isn’t any better. Some people even commit suicide because of bullying. Treat others the way you would like to be treated because I know you wouldn’t want to be hurt by someone. Now onto reporting safely and responsibly. DARE has taught me how to report with the five W’s of reporting: Who, What, When, Where and Why. These will help you report confidently, truthfully, and it’s the best way to report. When bullying is going on don’t be a bystander and just watch, help them, stand up for them. What if you were at recess and a kid is making fun of another kid and you don’t do anything? You would be a bystander. I hope this helps you know when bullying is happening and how to report it to a trusted adult for the future.

Have you ever been pressured to do something by someone? There are two types of pressuring that we learned in DARE: pressure and peer pressure. Pressure is when your parents or someone older than you like an adult pressures you to do something. Peer pressure is when someone your age pressures you to do something. Pressure can be good and bad. For example if someone is pressuring you to study, then that’s good. But an example of bad pressure is like a friend is trying to get you to do something you shouldn’t do like drugs, smoking, or even just playing a game instead of studying. So the difference is that pressure is when somebody is pressuring you to do something bad or good, and peer pressure is when someone your age pressures you into doing something good or bad. There are a few strategies to prevent and deal with pressure. One is plan ahead, this will help you to know what you are doing so you can’t be pressured to go with someone else. Another thing is make an excuse, this may not be the best thing but it helps get them off your back. I hope you will use this information to deal with pressure in the future.

Another thing you need to know is the health effects of smoking, and alcohol effects. You need to know this so you can know why you shouldn’t do it in the future. The worst health effect of smoking in my opinion is heart diseases. Smoking can also cause you to have yellow teeth and bad breath. You wouldn’t want to be walking around with yellow teeth and bad breath would you? Smoking can also cause your skin to be dry and get wrinkles, and get more colds and upper respiratory problems than most people. Could you imagine getting a lot of colds and other problems all the time? Did you know that nicotine in cigarettes and chewing tobacco reduces the amount of blood that flows to your brain? There are a lot more but now we’re going to talk about alcohol effects. Did you know it’s illegal for anyone under 21 to drink it? There are more than 75,000 alcohol related deaths each in the U.S. Too much alcohol can slow down the body and lead to coma and death. It goes directly into the bloodstream and can damage every organ of your body. Smoking and alcohol is very bad for you and your health. It is also proven that smokers live 10 years less than nonsmokers. You wouldn’t want these things to happen to you right? If not then don’t do these things to yourself by smoking and drinking.

I learned all of these facts in DARE. It helped me and I hope this information can help you too. I really hope you will take this seriously. So it’s my hope that fifth-graders will use this information I learned in DARE in their future or even right now. We talked about bullying, pressure, and health effects. Please take this seriously and use this information in the present and the future. I Sarah Kate Tidwell, pledge to always make good choices.

The 2020 winning DARE essay was written by Shayla Williams of Varnell Elementary.

Hi my name is Shayla Williams, and I’m going to talk about what I have learned in DARE. I’ve learned that no one should abuse prescription drugs and you should only take them if the doctor prescribes them to you. It can affect your life and can be really dangerous. It is important for me to be drug free because I have a family member who has made bad choices in her life and I’ve learned that the choices she makes are some of the worst choices to choose from because of how dangerous those choices are and can be.

I have a little brother and I want to show him the best role model I can be because I want him to make good choices. I’ve also learned that you have to choose your friends wisely because some of the things they do can be dangerous or their decisions they make are bad and they can peer pressure you to do things that you don’t want to do like smoking, doing drugs, drinking or being mean to other people. Life is all about making good decisions, when we make bad decisions it can lead to bad situations like going to jail or worse prison.

I’ve learned how to use empathy from this program. That is where you put yourself in someone’s shoes. For instance when you put yourself in people’s shoes it makes you think of how their life is and it can be sad, difficult or stressful because they may be going through something that we don’t know about and may need to talk to someone.

In closing I would like to say that my pledge is to dedicate myself to staying away from drugs and making good choices and using empathy to help others. I’m here if anyone ever wants to talk about their situations. I want to help people learn to make good choices and stay away from drugs because I want other people to stay safe and be strong in their choices, so that they too can help others and maybe by doing this we can help the world become a better place.

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