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DARE graduations abound in Nobles County

BREWSTER -- Fifth-grade students all over Nobles County are DARE-ing to resist drugs and violence and are learning to handle peer pressure while becoming comfortable with law enforcement personnel and discussing difficult issues.

BREWSTER -- Fifth-grade students all over Nobles County are DARE-ing to resist drugs and violence and are learning to handle peer pressure while becoming comfortable with law enforcement personnel and discussing difficult issues.

Nobles County Deputy and DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Officer Jay Clarke presided over two graduations Thursday -- with Round Lake-Brewster and the Worthington Area Language Academy (WALA) students in Brewster in the morning and the Ellsworth and Adrian students in Ellsworth in the afternoon. The graduations were attended by other Nobles County Sheriff's Office personnel and guest speaker Judge Jeffrey Flynn.

Clarke has been the DARE officer in Nobles County since 2001. This year, he had 113 students in several schools.

Each student writes an essay toward the end of the 12-week program, describing what they learned. Each year, Clarke chooses two essays from each school and has those students read them aloud at graduation.

"I personally read all of the essays, and they are all great," he said Thursday morning. "It is getting to the point that I could just throw them in a bucket and draw out two."

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The essays read in Brewster spoke of staying abstinent, of having role models and of not becoming a statistic or part of the percentage of kids in middle school who drink. The students described the DARE program as "fun" and "educational."

Flynn spoke to the students mainly about drunk driving and how the penalties continue to increase -- as do the number of people arrested each year.

He told students about prohibition and how outlawing liquor had unintended consequences.

"Alcohol usage increased, organized crime flourished, and bootleggers made so much money," Flynn explained, adding that prohibition was a failure. "But the great experiment of trying to regulate through government the use of alcohol didn't stop us from trying."

Flynn talked of how the number of people arrested for drunk driving continues to rise, as does the penalty.

"In 1982, legislature decided to make the penalty worse," Flynn explained. "They figured, 'This will take care of the issue.'"

There were roughly 26,000 arrests in Minnesota for drunk driving that year, Flynn said. By 1990, there were 36,847 arrests in the state, a number that was up to 41,951 in 2006.

"In the last 30 years, our response has been to increase the penalty," Flynn said. "It is an approach that hasn't worked."

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He reminded students after having five or six drinks is not a good time to make a decision.

"I have never met anybody who went out at night and planned or expected to get arrested," he stated. "They don't think anyone is going to see them or catch them."

His theory, Flynn explained, is that people do not take responsibility for their actions.

"The DARE program doesn't make you a different person," he reminded the students, "but it gives you the information and tools you can use if you decide to be responsible. Unless you decide to do so, all of this is for naught."

Flynn said many of the people he sees in his courtroom tell him they never plan to be there again.

"I hope I don't ever see any of you in my courtroom," he concluded. "Unless you are there to report for jury duty."

During the graduation ceremony in Ellsworth, a special presentation was made to student Paige Meester, who wrote an essay for the Minnesota State Trooper Association contest on the subject of drugs and alcohol. Meester was one of 39 students in the state to receive a cash prize of $150.

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