Fifth graders from across the county graduated as C.H.A.M.P.S. during a ceremony and celebration May 6 at Dawson County Middle School.
C.H.A.M.P.S., an acronym for Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety, is a 12-week curriculum that targets a range of choices young people face such as peer pressure, gangs and violence, drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse prevention, among others.
Taught by local deputies who serve as resource officers at each of the county's four elementary schools, C.H.A.M.P.S. "gives kids the information they need to say no to drugs," according to Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle.
"Nothing good comes out of the use of drugs or alcohol. That's why it is so important for us to get in and teach these kids that they can say no and why they need to say no to drugs and alcohol," he said.
Founded in 2003 by the Georgia Sheriff's Association, the CHAMPS program is the state's alternative to the California-based D.A.R.E. program, which was taught locally for many years and often focused on issues that were not relevant regionally.
Dawson County piloted C.H.A.M.P.S. in 2004, the first year it was offered, and has been participating since.
"The first year we had D.A.R.E. was back in '91 we had about 60 fifth graders. Today we have more than 300 at four different elementary schools," Carlisle said.
Dawson County Middle School's health and P.E. teacher, Jonathan Tinsley, was the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony and motivated the students to make good choices as they go on to middle school in the fall.
"Your dreams, drugs don't care about them. Your activities, drugs don't care about them. Your mom and daddy, drugs don't care about them. Your sister, drugs don't care about. Your life, drugs don't care about," he said. "Everybody in here cares about you. It's all about you. It goes back to one thing. Whose choice is it? It's yours. It's your choice."
In order to complete the course and participate in the graduation ceremony, students had attendance requirements, workbooks assignments and had to write an essay about what they learned from the program.
Essay winners were recognized from each school during ceremonies.
Winners from Black's Mill were Nick Bryant, Lexis Painter and Jennifer Johnson, while Robinson's winners were Belle Burt, Jenna Lecours, Kaylie Beacham and Avery Young.
The winners from Riverview Elementary were Samantha Mulkey, Brittany Cook and Briar Clark, and Brett Belcher, Sarah Roland and Gabby Menendez were Kilough's winners.
Each received a certificate and medallion.
Jennifer Johnson, Avery Young, Gabby Menendez and Briar Clark, who were named the best overall essay winners from each school, also received a special recognition during the graduation ceremony.