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Schools set to have CHAMPS graduations
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For the past five years, the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office has taught fifth grade students about Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety, a program also known as CHAMPS.


The program is a series of 12 core lessons that are taught throughout the year to students in the fifth grade by the school resource officers from the sheriff’s office.


“The sheriff’s office has been working since 1991 to continuously educate and provide our students with the tools and resources they need to make good decisions,” said Sgt. Johnny Holtzclaw.


Graduation ceremonies are planned during the upcoming two weeks in each elementary school in the county to recognize about 300 students with a certificate of completion of the CHAMPS program for this school year.


Each ceremony begins at 8 a.m., and will be held at Black’s Mill Elementary School on April 27, Robinson Elementary School on April 29 and Kilough Elementary School on May 5.


A cookout provided by the school resource officers will follow each graduation ceremony.


“Anyone in the community is welcome, invited and encouraged to attend these ceremonies in support of the good kids that we have in this county,” Holtzclaw said.


Founded in 2003 by the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, the CHAMPS program is targeted toward fifth grade students to resist self-destructive behavior.


According to the Georgia Sheriff’s Association Web site, today’s students face dangers that older generations could not have imagined, which is one of the main reasons why the program was developed.


The course covers subject matters including peer pressure, gangs and violence, drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse prevention and more.


Holtzclaw added that officers who work in the school system make an impact on the students and are positive role models to them.


“This gives them someone else to look up to,” he said.

Cpl. Steven Swofford agreed.


Swofford is the school resource officer for Kilough and Black’s Mill elementary schools, and says that one of his main jobs is to “make sure they [students] are not afraid of law enforcement, and to show them that we are not here to get them in trouble, but rather to help them if they need it.”


Dawson County was one of the first to come on board with the program. In the fall of 2004, the county participated as a pilot program, the first year it was offered, and has been participating since. 


Core lessons and visitation lessons are taught through the program at the schools.


The core lessons are more in depth, specific lessons that are taught throughout the course of one school year to fifth grade students.


Visitation lessons are taught to students in the kindergarten through fourth grade levels and are brief, short lessons given as a presentation about twice a school year.


According to Holtzclaw, the visitation lessons give younger students some exposure to what they will learn in fifth grade, as well as make them aware of the importance of making good decisions.


This year, CHAMPS is being piloted at the middle school level, and Dawson County is once again one of the first participating counties in the state.


Once the school year is complete, more than 600 CHAMPS lessons will have been taught to students in the county school system, with the majority of those classes at the elementary level.


E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton at