Tonganoxie fifth-graders celebrate at completion of program
Leavenworth County Attorney Frank Kohl asked nearly 130 Tonganoxie Elementary School students one question.
Of everyone attending Friday's DARE culmination, Kohl asked who in attendance was most important?
"Connie Anderson," one student said, referring to the school's longtime DARE officer.
Another student's answer was what Kohl was looking for.
"Us," the student said, an answer that drew loud applause in the TES gymnasium.
"The most important people here are the fifth-graders," Kohl said.
The DARE graduates consisted of the entire fifth-grade class at TES.
Kohl was one of several speakers who imparted messages to students during the annual ceremony, although the county attorney decided against speaking with a microphone from the podium.
Instead, Kohl strolled back and forth in front of the students delivering his message -- without a mike.
Cheta Mark's class
Participant awards: Seth Ahart, Michaela Edwards, Devon Gilpin, Evan Greenwell, Gabby Janssen, Esther Keeling, Emily Minear, Ronnie Myers, Ali Patterson, Holley Thompson and Keaton Truesdell.
Spirit Award: Keaton Truesdell.
Kim Laverentz's class
Participant awards: Zach Balthrope, Gus Dent, Clair Fischer, Jeremy Fox, Katherine Jacks, Sara Krapp, Paige Lauri, Brandon Morris, Cody Saladin and Jenny Whitledge.
Spirit Award: Clair Fischer
Lyn Smith's class
Participant awards: Dena Espeland, Ski Ettinger, Olivia Hollingsworth, Baylie Kiefer, Zack Lentz, Connor McClellan, Thomas Miller, Brett Morey, Nikki Robbins and Christopher Tiner.
Spirit Award: Dena Espeland
Cindy Korb's class
Participant awards: Richard Black, Breanna Elliott, Kirstin Hawkins, Jonathan Hendrix, Jo Kissinger, Reilly Laffoon, Amber Patterson, Hunter Speakman, Eric Taylor and Tanner Woolf.
Spirit Award: Amber Patterson
Donna Heffner's class
Participant awards: Elizabeth Andrews, Savannah Bailey, William Bond, Ricki Carpenter, Hannah Kemp, Lauren Lambrecht, Courtney Meyer, Stephanie Patton, Jeffrey Rawls, Brad Thornington and Tanna Ward.
Spirit Award: Brad Thornington
"My kids will tell you I talk loud enough they can hear me a block away," Kohl said.
Kohl said when he was growing up, cell phones were nonexistent and the only video game he played was Pong, a far cry from today's more advanced games.
But, Kohl pointed out, with all the improvements in life came negative aspects also.
When Kohl attended school as a youth, no one worried about someone offering drugs to students.
That's not the case today, which is why students must be strong and resist those pressures, he said.
After discussing what DARE also stands for, aside from Drug Abuse Resistance Education, Kohl mentioned another four-letter word with students -- love.
"Love, for yourself and people around you," Kohl said.
In addition, he encouraged students to show love for their teachers, who Kohl said shape youths' lives for a modest pay.
"I don't see many mansions occupied by retired teachers," Kohl said.
Singing about DARE
The program opened with students singing two songs: "I Will Dare" and "Responsible."
After a welcome from TES assistant principal Tammie George, fifth-grader Jo Kissinger led in the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.
During DARE class, students wrote essays about what DARE meant to them. A student from each of Tonganoxie's five fifth-grade classes was selected to share their essay. Reading essays were: Courtney Meyer (Donna Heffner's class), Lily Thao (Cheta Mark's class), Will Kibler (Cindy Korb's class), Summer Minor (Lyn Smith's class) and Cody Saladin (Kim Laverentz's class).
Students also were recognized for participation, and some received spirit awards.
Back at it
At last year's ceremony, DARE officer Connie Anderson tearfully said goodbye to Tonganoxie students. Anderson announced at that time that she would be retiring from the Leavenworth County sheriff's office after nearly 20 years with the department, 14 of which were involved with DARE.
She retired last September, but Dave Zoellner, who took office as Leavenworth County sheriff a year ago, asked Anderson to return to her post for this school year.
Zoellner referred to Anderson as "the best DARE officer in the state of Kansas" and said she was welcome to be the local DARE officer as long as he's sheriff.
At Friday's ceremony, Anderson praised students for their work. In the process, Anderson's voice once again quivered as she shed a few tears.
"I always get emotional," Anderson said. "Because it's all about the kids."
After the event, several students had one last hug for Anderson. Programs included an area available for autographs. Many students huddled around Anderson requesting her autograph as she urged them to "keep in touch."
In a letter Anderson gave to each of the students, she wrote "I will keep you close in my heart always." In the letter, she also included her work and cell phone numbers for students to contact her.
Rick Trapp, who is the state's DARE coordinator and is special assistant attorney in the state attorney general's office, praised Anderson for her work after the ceremony.
"She's one of the pioneers in DARE," Trapp said, noting that Anderson is respected across the state and nationally.
Trapp, a former Douglas County sheriff and FBI official, also spoke to the students during the event.
"I was impressed," Trapp said. "Everything's about the kids and we really are proud of them."
Also on hand for the ceremony were county commissioners Dean Oroke and Don Navinsky, Tonganoxie school Superintendent Richard Erickson and recreation commission director Gayle Parker. Other law enforcement officials at the event included Tonganoxie police Chief Kenny Carpenter, Leavenworth police officer Mark Lingenfelser and Tonganoxie police officer Glen Cannizaro.
DARE role models from Tonganoxie High School -- Zack Pistora, Rachel Bouza, Paula Prosser, Amie Riddle, Kezia Huseman, Sarah Herdman, Michael Shaw and Ali Pistora -- also attended.
Getting the point across
As students shared their essays, they discussed the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.
Erickson explained that a different drug can cripple a person's future. He shared the story of Rafael Palmeiro, the major-league baseball player who testified last year before Congress that he never used steroids.
After the hearings, during the baseball season, however, he tested positive for the illegal drug.
"What a tragedy to take a risk like that, to risk one's life, risk one's baseball career," Erickson said. "I challenge you to not make the mistake that Rafael Palmeiro did."