Excited whispers filled the hallways at Eisenhower Elementary School as local D.A.R.E. Instructor, Wellington Police Detective, Bobby Wilson made his way to the classroom.
"It's Friday!" One student said on Jan. 25.
"Time for D.A.R.E." said another.
Wilson was about to teach his last D.A.R.E. class before he passing it on. Wednesday night, Jan. 30, he saw his eighth group of students graduate from the program. And as far as teaching the class goes, he shares in the student's excitement.
"It's an hour out of the day where they don't have to worry about homework…it's just a chance for them to express what they want to express," Wilson said. "It's been a pretty good outlet for me to get a way from everything here [at the police department] and go there." Wilson noted that the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) has evolved.
"A lot of people think of D.A.R.E. as a 'just say no' program, that's not what it is, D.A.R.E. has expanded over the last seven years," Wilson said. "Now it's taken on prescription medicine, bullying and more of that stuff." D.A.R.E. graduation is a big event that has grown over the years.
Wilson's office at the WPD is clad with signatures of sports heroes, big-game photos and of course some local sports memorabilia. A good amount of the items will be given away during D.A.R.E. graduation to the students, but...
"A lot of stuff in this office is actually mine, I'm a sports memorabilia nut…I love it," Wilson laughed. "I've been collecting it for years." For the first graduation, Wilson gave away two basketballs signed by Kansas Jayhawk basketball players.
Now the prizes cover the a variety of different sports and memorabilia. Along with all of the fun prizes, D.A.R.E. graduation is an emotionally charged event. A few of the awards that are handed out honor local students who have passed away.
One of those is the Jamie Fonts Award.
"Jamie Fonts was a student I had my first year, that kid stole my heart," Wilson said. "He died of cancer, and just a way to recognize him, we give away the Jamie Fonts Award. For me, that award is totally based on try." The award will go to a student that may not write the best essay, may not have the best work book, but they show up every day smiling and giving all they've got.
"Our Essay Awards are named after Katherine Treadway…" Wilson said. "Kat died the December before she was supposed to be in D.A.R.E." There is also an award honoring another student, the late Christian Miller.
Page 2 of 2 - "We have the Man of Steel Award that we named after him," Wilson said. The detective said that D.A.R.E. and the local graduation would not be possible if it weren't for the support of the community.
"If anybody in Wellington says the town doesn't care, or the business leaders don't care about kids, they're totally wrong," Wilson added. "Every year, it's not even hard to raise money. I couldn't run the program without our local businesses and our local people." Speaking of people, there have been over 800 people attend D.A.R.E. graduation in the past. Wilson gives an award to the student who brings the most people to the event.
"Last year we had a student bring 75 people to graduation…" he laughed.
After graduation is complete, the WPD's Jim Yunker, School Resource Officer will be taking over the D.A.R.E. program in Wellington. Yunker replaced Wilson as SRO in August when Wilson became a detective. Wilson said Yunker will do a fabulous job.
"It's one of those things, I think D.A.R.E. and being the SRO go hand in hand," Wilson said. "Those kids will move up through the system and he'll have the same chance to build a relationship with his kids as I have with mine."
In Wilson's tenure with the D.A.R.E. program, he's served on the State Board, and traveled all across the country serving on national committees. He's seen D.A.R.E. youth advisors from Wellington visit the DEA Academy in Quantico, Va. four of the last seven years.
"That's something unique, usually the Youth Advisors come from a bigger city," he said. Wilson has also established life-long friendships via D.A.R.E. and was also Kansas D.A.R.E. Officer of the Year twice.
"Thanks to the community, it's been a great ride," Wilson said. Before heading in to teach his last class, Wilson said the moment was bitter sweet.
"D.A.R.E. class is just fun, that's the way I've always envisioned it. We can be serious, but we want it to be fun…let them be themselves," Wilson said. "I have a lot of good memories of D.A.R.E."