Just how much fun?
"Loads," Alvelo said. "It's the best day of my life."
Alvelo's comments pretty much summed up the feelings of the youngsters who were allowed to skip an entire day of school in order to participate in the seventh annual DARE Day, held at Stan Newman Field on 64th Street in North Bergen.
There was music, dancing, and rides galore. There was freshly spun cotton candy and ice-cold snow cones for all. There were presentations ranging from a motorcycle stunt brigade to the New Jersey State Police helicopter. There were water slides and water balloons and water bottles - all designed to keep the youngsters cool, hydrated and happy.
Needless to say, there were a bunch of happy kids, all reaping the benefits of completing the 22-week program, taught by dedicated members of the North Bergen Police Department. It warns impressionable youngsters about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and violence.
"I've learned about drugs and how to say, 'No,'" Alvelo said. "That's the most important thing."
Poster contest, report
Those words are sweet music to North Bergen Police Officer and DARE instructor Joe Sitty, who has been involved with the DARE program in the township since its infancy.
"Throughout the DARE program, the students have to do work," Sitty said. "They have to participate in the poster contest and they have to write a report. If they don't do the requirements, then they don't graduate and they don't get to participate in DARE Day. This is the culmination of their hard work and this is their reward for their commitment to the program. They're saying no to drugs and violence."
The DARE program gives kids the life skills they need to avoid involvement with drugs, gangs, and violence. The DARE curriculum is designed to be taught by police officers whose training and experience gave them the background needed to answer the sophisticated questions often posed by young students about drugs and crime.
In 2007, millions of school children around the world will benefit from the DARE curriculum. DARE was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles and has proven so successful that it is now being implemented in 75 percent of the nations school districts and in more than 43 countries around the world.
Gang awareness, too
When the DARE program was first initiated in the North Bergen schools a decade ago, its main focus was to teach the students to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Now, the program has evolved into more of a focus towards violence and gang-related activity. It's just a sign of the times.
"Just this past year, we instituted two lessons on bullying and one on gangs," Sitty said. "The entire DARE program was revised three years ago. We took some things out and added more things, stuff that pertained to kids more now. Every three or four years, we're going to look at the program and change what needs to be changed in order to keep current."
Added Sitty, "We believe that drugs and violence are like a marriage. If you have drugs, violence will follow. That's the message we relay to them."
Derron Palmer, the coordinator of the Hudson County Municipal Alliance against Drugs and Alcohol, applauded the efforts of the North Bergen community in putting together a DARE Day.
"North Bergen has one of the bigger and more successful DARE programs in Hudson County," Palmer said. "I give them a lot of credit for having a day like this. A lot of effort goes into a day like this. They all work together. I hope the message hits home and stays home. I think it's also important that the kids develop good relationships with the police department."
But the major theme for the day Wednesday was fun - and lots of it.
Josseline Renderos spent a while going down the Wild Rapids water slide. Soaked from head to toe, Renderos didn't want to stop.
"This is the first time I've ever done anything like this," Renderos said. "This is so much fun."
Horace Mann fifth grader Robert Lopez was active at the Sports Challenge, where he was strapped to a bungee cord and asked to try to make his way toward making a basketball shot. It wasn't as easy as it looked.
"No, this was pretty hard," Lopez said. "It was harder than I thought. But I'm having a blast."
While Lopez was busy doing the basketball routine, it wasn't the highlight of his day.
"I like the dancing the best," Lopez said. "I love to dance."
Omar Elsamna, another fifth grader from Horace Mann, called the day "the best activity I've ever had in school."
"You have everything here, basketball, soccer, rock climbing, water slides," Elsamna said. "It's really an excellent reward for completing the DARE classes."
One lucky youngster won a bicycle in a raffle, courtesy of James Vincent Bicycles on Bergenline Avenue. Another youngster won an autographed goalie stick, signed by NHL All-Star and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, who donated the stick as well.
"It's why we're here," Sitty said. "It's what it's all about. Seeing the smiles on the kids' faces is the biggest reward. My whole life evolves around kids and these kids deserve this day."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com