PHOENIXVILLE - Eighty students of the Barkley Elementary School who participated in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program (DARE) officially graduated from the program, sponsored by the Phoenixville Police Department, at a ceremony at the school Thursday afternoon.

Sgt. Brian Marshall, along with Officers Robert I. Sutton Jr. and Patrick Mark, spent 17 weeks teaching children enrolled in the program about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and violence.

Sgt. Marshall, speaking to the graduates, said, "Use your mind. You'll be faced with a lot of decisions in the future and we hope what you've learned in the DARE program will help you make the right decisions."

In attendance at the ceremony were Phoenixville Police Chief John Kalavik and Phoenixville Area School District Superintendent David Noyes

Along with Barkley principal Dr. Phoebe McLaughlin, speaking at Thursday afternoon's graduation was Joseph Carroll, Chester County District Attorney. He spoke particularly to the parents in attendance about the example they set for their children.

"I commend all of the parents for being here today," he said. "Your actions speak much louder than words. Kids look up to their parents as heroes. If you choose to smoke, and then tell your kids not to, then what example are you setting for them? We need to work on our own habits. We have to watch the children carefully - watch them like a hawk. You need to ask them what, when, where and why. It is unfortunate at times parents sometimes don't find out until the last minute when something goes wrong. We simply need to protect them as much as possible.

"Usually when I leave my office, it's for something bad. I love coming to events like this. I learn something new when I visit with youngsters. The most important reason to avoid drugs is that it changes your life. You will lose a lot - your license, your friends, your family, everyone who cares about you, even your job."

Carroll closed his speech with a story regarding a family relative who lost his life to drugs.

"I had a cousin who was a few months older than me," said Carroll. "Everyone wanted to be his friend. He was cool, well-liked. Then he started doing drugs. Then he began fighting a drug addiction all of his life.

"He was found dead in New York City of an overdose in a car on Christmas morning. He killed himself. Inside the car were pictures found near him. They were pictures of his family, the people he couldn't be with on Christmas. I hope this never happens to anyone in this room."

Prior to the District Attorney, Phoenixville Mayor Leo Scoda spoke of his dealings with teenagers at the high school level. "Being a teacher and coach, I've seen the effects of drugs and alcohol on our teenagers and it is a real tragedy," he said. "The hard years are yet to come for you. There will be more pressure on you to do the wrong thing. Be yourself and do the things that are best for you and not what someone else tells you.

"Smoking and drinking will work against you in the future. Not only practice well in sports, practice saying 'No' to bad influences."

The children then lined up to receive their certificates and pins from their teachers, Mr. Duey, Mr. Harr, Mrs. Fritz, and Mrs. Traner, while Officer Mark handed out stuffed DARE lions to essay award winners Ashley DiGirolomo, Simon Juynh and Kalin Thomas.

Marshall concluded the ceremony by telling the students, "DARE Class of 2004, give yourselves a big round of applause. Parents, thank you for coming out, because we gave your children the tools, now we need you to keep this going in the household."

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