Monday night, something wonderful happened at Roosevelt Auditorium in Estherville.
Four fifth-grade classes dared to take a very important pledge in their lives - the D.A.R.E. pledge.
Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a program that started in Los Angeles in 1983, is now in 75 percent of the nation's schools, and for good reason - it works.
D.A.R.E. gives kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs and violence - things peers may force upon them. "Join the gang if you want to be cool," they might hear, or even worse, "Join the game if you don't want to get beat up."
What D.A.R.E. teaches kids is to "just say no" and be able to walk away from drugs, alcohol and gangs. It also helps kids find self-esteem without drugs or alcohol. It teaches them to march to their own drum and think independently - and not follow others down the crooked path of drugs, gangs and violence.
Now in 43 countries, D.A.R.E. is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives.
There's a relatively narrow window in which kids are most impressionable - that's why fifth grade is a great time to give them the tools to be able to choose to NOT do drugs or to drink. Once kids are in high school, they're a little better able to make good decisions - and college even more so.
What D.A.R.E. does is help parents - and teachers - give kids the tools to make wiser decisions.
The Estherville Police Department, most notably officer Nate Dunlavy, is to be commended for its many years of service to D.A.R.E. and ELC students. Likewise, ELC teachers and staff should be commended for their commitment to instilling sound values in our students. And, finally, and most importantly, the students should be commended for taking the D.A.R.E. pledge.
The key now, kids, is to follow through - to continue to maintain the pledge to not abuse drugs and alcohol. You might not believe this, but the habits you form now will last a lifetime.
That's why NOW is the time when you'll decide what sort of life you want to lead - productive and enjoyable or destructive and miserable.
And D.A.R.E. is a very important key.