"It was the best experience of my whole life," said the 11-year-old fifth grader. "It was so much fun. I'm proud to be a DARE graduate."
While the majority of North Bergen's elementary school students were stuck inside their classrooms Wednesday morning, the district's 700 or so fifth graders had a chance to enjoy a day away from the desks and blackboards, soaking up sun and fun.
The DARE Day celebration is a day for the students who completed the 16-week course on Drug Abuse Resistance in Education, learning the evils of drug and alcohol abuse. The students spent the entire day celebrating at Stan Newman Field on 64th Street.
Cha-Cha You couldn't tell that the students' day of fun had been postponed for a week, due to the wet weather that dampened the area last week.
Whether it was the entire group of kids dancing up a storm, doing moves like the "Cha-Cha" slide in unison, or another group of kids enjoying the gigantic rock climbing wall, or yet another marveling at the State Police Helicopter, everyone was having fun - and that's what DARE Day is supposed to be about.
"Everyone was nice and there was so much to do," Ronak Shah said. "I loved the food and the rides." Shah was asked if he made it to the top of the rock climbing wall.
"I got up a little way from the top, then I had to get off," Shah said. "I got close."
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco was on hand to join in the festivities. He spent most of the morning personally congratulating the students.
"These kids work hard all year in their classes and this is the culmination of their hard work," Sacco said. "It's a day for them away from the traditional school buildings, but it's a day with a predominant message. They have a lot of fun, and it's a great setting."
DARE For 12 years now, the DARE program has been part of the regular grade school curriculum. For the last decade, Officer Joseph Sitty has taught the classes and organized the program.
"The kids have been talking about this day for months," Sitty said. "They're all able to come together and have a fun day. That's what it's all about. They did all the hard work in the classroom for months and now, this is their day to let loose and have fun. It's awesome to see all the smiles on the kids' faces. It's the most rewarding part of this job."
There were musical performances by their own students and by local recording artist Lori Michaels, who brought her "Reach Out" dancers with her to perform. Michaels is a North Bergen resident who has participated in all six DARE Day celebrations.
In fact, Michaels has composed an upbeat song entitled "Reach Out, Say No to Drugs," which has become an anthem to North Bergen's DARE program. All the youngsters knew the words and sang and danced along with Michaels, who totally captivates the young audience.
The kids were also treated to refreshments, able to go on rides, and get to see some Monster trucks and impressive vehicles.
"It's truly a community event," Sitty said. "We get great support from the township, from Mayor Sacco, from the Board of Education, from the Police Department. I think everyone realizes that these kids are our future and they have to be protected now. This is our way to let them realize how much we appreciate them."
Police Officer Artie Del, who teaches the DARE classes along with Sitty, makes the children realize that the day is a reward for them.
"It's their reward for getting through the program," Del said. "It's not like they have a free period when we're there. It's a tough class with required assignments. They do work hard to learn what we're teaching them." Obviously, the DARE program works because one of Del's students was a witness to a recent car theft in the township and it was through her efforts that the police were able to apprehend the criminal.
"We're all working as a team," Del said. "This was a day for us to hang out and enjoy the kids. It wasn't police officer and student or teachers and students. It was just a fun day for all. Even the teachers got a chance to hang out as well."
But it was all for the students.
Jessica Parra is another fifth grader who had a lot of fun.
"Just being with my friends all day, going on the rides, that was special for me," Parra said. "This was like a reward for working so hard all year. I enjoyed everything we had. Everyone pitched in to help out. But having fun was the most important part of the day."
"It was pretty cool," Shah said. "I tried to do everything. It was a real good way to celebrate graduating from DARE. I think we all know now what to do if we're faced with drugs and alcohol. If you stay away from drugs and alcohol, your life will last pretty long."