Last month, Sitty and Police Officer Arthur "Pete" Del, who serve as the township's DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance in Education) instructors and go to the district's classrooms to teach the students a 17-week course on the evils of drug and alcohol abuse, had to inform the township's fifth graders that their reward for completing the program, the DARE Day festivities, were being postponed due to wet grounds.
"It definitely broke my heart to tell them that we had to postpone it," Sitty said. "They worked so hard in the program. I couldn't tell them that we wouldn't have DARE Day. We were fortunate to reschedule."
Last Tuesday, the sun was shining brightly and the temperatures were perfect for a day in the park. The township's 400 or so fifth graders were finally treated to their reward, a day of fun and sun, complete with music, dancing, rides, games, and you name it. The New Jersey State Police helicopter even landed on Stan Newman Field, where the event was held, as part of the festivities.
"It's all positive activities, allowing kids to be kids," Sitty said. "I love teaching the program. I've been doing it for seven years, and I could do it another seven years."
Three years ago, township and Board of Education officials decided to give the students a reward for successfully completing the DARE program. Thus, the DARE Day was conceived.
"It's a way of saying thanks to the kids for all their hard work and the time they put into the program," said North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who was on hand once again for the festivities. "The kids seem to enjoy the program, but this day enables them to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It's their reward. It's meant to be an enjoyable day."
The students were treated to performances by fellow students singing songs with anti-drug use messages. For example, Denise Arenas' class from Fulton School sang a song with original lyrics, "I Don't Want No Drugs," sung to the tune of the popular song, "No Scrubs," by the recording group TLC.
The song has been such a rousing success that the students will perform the song at the National DARE Convention and Conference in Atlantic City later this month.
"The whole day proves that you don't have to be on drugs to have a good time," Sitty said. "The whole day is about positive alternative activities. You can see that the kids are really enjoying themselves by the smiles on their faces."
Recording artist and North Bergen native Lori Michaels brought her group, the Reach Out Dancers, to perform for the youngsters. Michaels definitely got the kids going and had them all dancing together soon after she commanded center stage.
The kids were also treated to refreshments and able to go on rides while also participating in a contest between local police departments over which department had the best police car. Several municipalities sent representative vehicles to participate. The Newark car "Batman" was voted the best, with North Bergen finishing second and Mahwah third.
"I wanted the North Bergen car to win," said 10-year-old Lauren Gamio, who is a fifth grader at Horace Mann School. "Watching the cars was the most fun part for me. I think it was fun, because it taught us how to vote. It was teaching us more than one thing, which is saying no to drugs. The whole day was so much fun. It was very exciting for me, and it was a great reward."
Cynthia Cruz, an 11-year-old fifth grader from Franklin School, also had a blast.
"It was so awesome," Cruz said. "It was a great day. It was really something for me to remember. It was positive attitude all the way. I loved the concert in the beginning, with the singing and the dancing. Then we all got in the group dance. And it wasn't just the kids having fun. The teachers had fun with us."
Cruz was asked if anyone has ever approached her, asking her to use drugs.
"No one has come up to me yet, but if they did, I know I would say no," Cruz said. "It's all because of what I learned and all."
Don Miller, who is from the Governor's Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, was on hand as well.
"These kinds of events display the great relationship that is there between the students, the community, the teachers and the police," Miller said. "It speaks so highly for all involved. A day like this is unbelievable, fantastic. I didn't expect anything so big. By establishing events like this now, maybe we're saving lives one day down the road."
One can only hope. But if Dare Day 2003 was any indication, chances are that these youngsters will stay far away from the evils of drug abuse.
"You can see their enthusiasm," Sacco said. "They feel comfortable with the DARE officers. It's a nice day for them. The energy is amazing. This is proof that the program works."
As long as the weather cooperates.