The cheers of nearly 900 students echoed out of Kekuaokalani Gym and down Kuakini Highway Thursday morning, as kids hailing from schools as far away as Honokaa, Kohala and Ka‘u joined those from Kona to celebrate the end of this year’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.
Comedian Kaleo Pilanca emceed the party, rousing the students from their seats and leading them in roaring shouts.
“If you’re like me, against drugs, alcohol, peer pressure and bullying, can I get a woo?” Pilanca asked the students.
They complied with a deafening cry that filled the gym.
As always, the D.A.R.E. Day event was filled with a mix of music, dancing and reviewing the lessons Hawaii Island fifth- and sixth-graders learned in their nine-week classes. Those lessons aren’t limited to why drugs are harmful, said School Resource Officer Wyatt Lane Nahale, who organized this year’s celebration.
“We see them being more confident in themselves,” Nahale said. “They’re able to make better decisions.”
D.A.R.E. has expanded to give kids tips on how to handle peer pressure and bullying, he added.
Ten-year-old Elena Wagstaff remembered a few of those tips.
“Just say ‘no thank you’ and change the subject,” the Naalehu fifth-grader said.
Mhayrose Baradi, 11, also a Naalehu fifth-grader, said she “learned how to walk away from people who use drugs and how to resist drugs.”
The girls were especially excited about meeting the Police Department’s Special Response Team and seeing Anuhea perform after lunch.
Students got an up-close look at how the Fire Department responds to a car crash, with a simulated rescue using the Jaws of Life to remove the “victim” from the vehicle. Rescue workers took the victim to a helicopter to be taken to Kona Community Hospital for treatment. Not long after the helicopter left, the students watched as police cornered the hit-and-run driver from the crash and sent in the Special Response Team to apprehend him. One suspect from the vehicle ran away, and once students had returned to the gym, officers arrested him there.
Police officers gave students one more simulation, showing them how a K-9 unit police dog can detect drugs and alert police officers. Students went wild, cheering on the dog.
Isaiah Strumpf, 12, a Kealakehe Intermediate School sixth-grader, said he learned a lot from the D.A.R.E. program.
“We learned about drugs and how they’re really bad for you,” he said. “It can really kill you.”
Keala Guzman, an 11-year-old Kealakehe sixth-grader, agreed.
“I learned a lot of things can really hurt your body,” she said. “Then it can teach you what you can do when there’s a situation.”
Kona businessman Che Pilago then offered students a few words of wisdom.
“I went through a lot of peer pressure, a lot of challenges,” Pilago said, adding he avoided the traps of abusing drugs. If he hadn’t, “I wouldn’t have accomplished the stuff I have today. Stick to your goals and stay drug free.”