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DARE Days come to an end

As her students celebrated completing their school's DARE — program at Emigrant Lake on Wednesday, Sams Valley Elementary School teacher — Mary Palmer-Nowland expressed disappointment that this would be the last — year they would be rewarded for being drug-free.

For 12 years, fifth-graders throughout the county have — looked forward to a day of fun at Emigrant Lake for completing Project — DARE, a nationwide youth drug prevention program sponsored in Jackson — County by local law enforcement agencies.

Facing budget cuts, the Medford School District board — announced in the fall they would end the district's DARE program. The — board estimated they will save $70,000 a year toward a $2.4 million budget — deficit.

Due to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department receiving — a portion of their funding from the Medford School District, they will — also be able unable to continue to fund the DARE program at schools such — as Sams Valley and the celebration at Emigrant Lake. Schools in Ashland — and Central Point will continue the DARE program. The program in Ashland — is funded by a community grant and not by the school district.

"It's just real sad to know these are the last kids to — graduate from this program," Palmer-Nowland said as she watched her students — barely contain their excitement as they prepared to ride a sheriffs' department — boat.

"Prevention is the best thing we can do compared to the — cost incurred for incarceration and rehabilitation. They're at the right — age to learn about prevention before they hit that adolescent wall. This — helped encourage them to stay on the right path."

Bittersweet for those involved, the circumstances didn't — detract from the fun for approximately 650 students who enjoyed their — time at the lake. They spent the day using the lake's watersides, taking — boat rides, playing Frisbee, or trying out fire equipment. A group of — F-15 planes from the Oregon National Guard in Klamath Falls also made — a fly-by to start the day. The fun continues today and Friday as an additional — 650 students each day from a total of 29 schools celebrate completing — the DARE program.

At the watersides, Carlie Irvine and her friends were — all smiles.

"It's really fun and it's a good way to celebrate our — hard work." said Irvine, a fifth-grader at Helman Elementary School in — Ashland.

While she was happy the DARE program will continue in — Ashland, she was disappointed to hear other students in the county wouldn't — participate anymore.

"It's a really good way to teach kids not to use drugs," — she said. "Because in our world, we don't want people smoking or using — drugs."

Deputy Greg Halley, who helps coordinate the DARE program — for the sheriffs' department, said while it can be challenge to coordinate, — it's worth all the hard work to see the children having so much fun.

"It's a celebration of their commitment" he said. "It's — amazing what you can do when you spend time with them. They see we're — more than the badge and the gun and that we're there to listen to them — — We give them the skills to make the right decisions and hope for the — best."

For Halley, it was emotional to know the event at Emigrant — Lake and the DARE program at many Jackson County schools would soon become — a memory.

"It's certainly disappointing," he said. "What we're teaching — to these children may be become priceless down the road."