Fifth graders challenged to D.A.R.E. to be drug-free

For most schools, graduation is still more than a month away, but one school has already held its ceremony.

However, these aren't teenagers that now will be looking toward the job market or college as the next step in life.

Barnwell Elementary School held its D.A.R.E. graduation April 24 in which 205 fifth graders completed the nine-week course educating them about the dangers of drugs, violence and gangs.

The graduation was like a field day for the students as they visited on-campus displays of fire and rescue equipment and vehicles. The students also participated in a mass balloon release.

A helicopter from the S.C. Governor's Drug Task Force was supposed to have flown in as well, but the aircraft was busy assisting firefighting in Horry County, said Brenda O'Berry, the D.A.R.E. instructor and an investigator with the Barnwell County Sheriff's Office. She is also the school resource officer for Barnwell Elementary School.

Before the festivities, the fifth graders held their graduation ceremonies, which included singing anti-drug D.A.R.E. songs they had learned. Nine students were recognized as winners in the essay contest, in which all D.A.R.E. students must participate. Guest speaker for the event was Barnwell County Sheriff Ed Carroll.

Carroll praised the students and teachers involved in the program and thanked Mike Baxley and the Big 7 Association for helping the sheriff's office pay for the students' D.A.R.E. t-shirts this year.

Budget cutbacks would not have allowed the sheriff's office to afford the shirts otherwise, Carroll said.

There are three types of decisions a person can make, Carroll said to the children during his speech - good, bad and dangerous decision.

Good decisions cause no problems and bad decisions are usually correctable, he said.

However, dangerous decisions "you might not be that lucky," Carroll said.

The toughest task a police officer has to do is tell parents that their child is not coming home because of a dangerous decision that either got the child incarcerated or killed, he said.

"How many of you students have heard that police put people in jail?" Carroll said. "You have heard a lie. We only furnish the ride."

The comment got a big round of applause.

Carroll also praised O'Berry for working two jobs during this school year.

Carroll's department selected O'Berry for a newly created position as an anti-gang investigator for the county.

However, it would have left the school without a D.A.R.E. instructor.

O'Berry filled both roles to complete this school year.

"Hopefully next year we will have a D.A.R.E. officer. I just bit the bullet because I didn't want the district to be without a D.A.R.E. officer," O'Berry said.

Sheriff's deputy Darlene Cook will be the new school resource officer for BES, Carroll said.

"She's a true family person," Carroll said of Cook.

D.A.R.E. means Drug Abuse Resistance Education. The program began in Los Angeles in 1983 and is now in 75 percent of the schools nationwide and in 43 countries as well.