Grandview Middle School students get surprise at DARE graduation

By Lorrie Ham
Grandview Middle School sixth-graders marked the completion of the year’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) curriculum with a surprise from the sky on March 17. In lieu of the traditional graduation ceremony, first-year DARE Officer Tim Sonnek of the Orono Police Department opted for more of a party this year, according to Principal Christy Zachow. The highlight of the 2017 DARE celebration was a helicopter landing at the school.

“DARE is a powerful way not only for our kids to learn about the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction but also how to lead a safe and healthy life,” said Principal Zachow. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity [for the students] to get to know Officer Sonnek and for him to get to know them. Students know he is someone they can trust and that he is here to help them.”

“It’s a great way to build positive connections in our community, and I am so grateful for the support of sponsors to make this program possible,” Zachow added.

The essay writing portion of the DARE program remained intact this year, as students prepared essays on drug abuse education topics. Laura Sunnarborg, Ellen Pruitt and Nevaeh Lerfald were chosen to read their essays during the celebration. Lerfald was named the overall winner for her essay.

Students received red White Hawks T-shirts with the DARE logo on one sleeve. They enjoyed snacks in the cafeteria during the essay readings and then headed outside for “recess,” which actually included a surprise helicopter landing on the school grounds by the Minnesota State Patrol. Ice cream treats for everyone wrapped up a fun afternoon.

“Being a first-year DARE instructor and School Resource Officer, I was concerned about the curriculum and how it would impact the kids, but I found that many of the kids had fun with the program,” Sonnek said.

Sonnek said that one of the most valuable things that he came away with was a connection to the kids. Prior to teaching DARE, Sonnek said the kids barely spoke to him in the hallways. “Now, kids stop into the office and are more engaging,” he said.

The DARE program has evolved over the years. Recently, the DARE program moved away from talking mainly about drugs and now deals more with decision-making skills.

“The DARE program sets up a system for kids to solve problems by first defining the problem, thinking about different options, making a choice from those options and then evaluating whether that was a good choice or not,” said Sonnek.

Students used this model to make decisions concerning drugs, tobacco, alcohol, risky situations, bullying and stress. Students also learned how to communicate more effectively and report incidents to adults.

“With the state of our society, I feel that we, in law enforcement, need to make that connection with our community,” said Sonnek. “We need to make sure that kids and the community know that our job is to solve problems and resolve conflicts and that there is a human behind making these decisions.”
Officer Sonnek thanked the local Crime Prevention Fund, Jubilee Foods, Minnesota DARE (especially Kathi Ackerman), former Minnesota Vikings player Jim Kleinsasser, the Minnesota State Patrol, Grandview Middle School and Westonka Public Schools for allowing the Orono Police Department to make a connection with the students.