Valley Point 5th Grader Wins Whitfield DARE Essay Contest

Wednesday, May 18, 2022 - by Mitch Talley, Whitfield County Director of Communications

Eliher Gonzalez-Favila says she plans to use the knowledge she picked up in the DARE program this year to avoid doing something she’ll regret later. 

That’s how the fifth grader at Valley Point Elementary summed up her Drug Abuse Resistance Education essay, which was judged best out of the hundreds written by this year’s DARE graduates from all 13 elementary schools in Whitfield County. 

Ms. Gonzalez-Favila and the other 12 essay winners from each school were honored at the 17th annual DARE recognition program held May 16 at the Dalton Convention Center, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Dalton and the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office. 

As first-place winner, Ms. Gonzalez-Favila received a plaque and a $100 cash prize. Savannah Merrell of Pleasant Grove Elementary earned a plaque and $50 for second place, while a plaque and $20 went to Malaki McCullough of Beaverdale Elementary for third place. 

Each year, the 11-week-long DARE program teaches the fundamentals of the consequences of drug abuse, peer pressure and more life skills to hundreds of local fifth graders, Program Director Lieutenant Tammy Silvers said. 

“Basically, every week in class we’re talking about making good decisions and how important it is to make those good decisions,” Lt. Silvers said, praising the 13 essay winners for their efforts. “You are the cream of the crop – you are the best of the best. You’ve accomplished something only 13 students in Whitfield County schools have accomplished this year, and we’re very proud of you.” 

The Kiwanis Club’s Bert Poston, emcee of the program who also serves as local district attorney, praised the support of the parents and school officials for making the DARE program a success every year. 

“As important as it is to learn facts,” Mr. Poston said, “it’s equally important to learn how to express yourself and how to write and how to speak and how to share that knowledge with others, so one thing we really love about this program and about the DARE essay is that you’ve got 13 kids who have shown exceptional knowledge, but also exceptional ability to communicate.” 

Other school-level winners who were recognized during the program – with family, school officials and Kiwanians looking on – included: 
- Antioch – Emmaleigh Dover;
- Cedar Ridge – Zaira Mejia;
- Cohutta – Miley Farmer;
- Dawnville – Kaylee De Leon; 
- Dug Gap – Brooklyn Anderson; 
- Eastside – Ariana Munguia;
- New Hope – Sophie Lofty;
- Tunnel Hill – Lyla Beckler;
- Varnell – Emiliano Barragan; and 
- Westside – Elsa Gewecke.

A special treat during the program was the return of Edwin Hernandez, who won the essay contest in 2015 as a fifth grader at Eastside Elementary. He’s now a member of the United States Army and will be graduating this year as an honors student from Southeast Whitfield High School. 

“Even though a lot of time has passed since I’ve completed the program,” Mr. Hernandez said, “I like to think that the core beliefs of DARE have stuck with me and have influenced my decisions, and I want you kids here today to try to apply them to yourselves as well.” 

Besides learning to say no to drugs and alcohol, Mr. Hernandez says a third important result of the program for him was learning how to trust smartly. 

“In this world, not everyone who says they’re your friend will really mean it,” he said. “That even goes for people in your family. Now I’m not saying that you can’t trust anyone, or that you have to be suspicious of everyone you meet or have ever met, but I am saying that you have to pay close attention to who you lend your trust to. If someone you know has ever offered you something, or tried to convince you to do something you knew wasn’t right, odds are that someone doesn’t consider your well-being as a top priority. And these aren’t some empty words, I’ve seen them play out more times than I can remember.” 

Mr. Hernandez pointed to an example of a friend who missed much of his senior year because he accepted some marijuana-laced gummy bears from a “shady” acquaintance before a football game.  

“Because it was marijuana, the police got involved,” Mr. Hernandez said. “Luckily, my bandmate wasn’t sentenced to jail time, but he was still forced to spend the rest of his first semester, and most of his second semester, at Crossroads. And since this went on his permanent record, some of his friends viewed him as a fool, a criminal and cut him out of their lives.” 

Mr. Hernandez says his friend told him the worst part about the incident wasn’t the stain on his record, but the feeling of betrayal he had from someone he trusted. 

“So take it from me, take it on account of my bandmate, be smart about who you trust, and pay close attention to those around you,” Mr. Hernandez told the students, “because not everyone around who you call 'friend' is who they say they are.” 
Following is the essay written by Ms. Gonzalez-Favila of Valley Point Elementary School that was judged as the best from the 13 elementary schools in Whitfield County.

By Eliher Gonzalez-Favila

Today I would like to talk about six things I learned in DARE, why I think they’re the most important, how I stay safe, and why I avoid some of them. Those topics are reporting bullying, stress, alcohol and tobacco, help network, and the DARE Decision Making Model (DDMM). 

First of all, let me talk about bullying Nationwide, 20 percent of students ages 12-18 have experienced or are experiencing bullying. To stop this problem, DARE clearly showed me how to report bullying in a safe way. First of all, we have to learn the 5 W’s. Who: who’s being bullied? What: What’s happening? Where: Where is this happening? Finally, why: Why is this happening? The 5 W’s will make it easier for us to report bullying. We can report bullying by telling a trusted adult, a friend, or reporting it to the DARE box. If we don’t report bullying as soon as possible, the victim could feel useless, could develop anxiety, depression, and probably commit suicide. 

Next, I’d like to talk about stress. Stress can be caused by a lot of stuff: bullying, overthinking about something, any type of problems, a test, etc. etc. You might not think about the consequences of not calming down in a stressful situation, but they’re not satisfying. Two examples of bad consequences are tobacco and alcohol addiction (which I’ll talk about later). Just think about it, there’s no need to find a solution in tobacco or alcohol. Some things I do to calm down in a stressful situation are listening to music, talk with someone, laugh, write, change the subject, and going to sleep. You can also use these strategies, or you can use whatever makes you calm. 

Now, I would like to talk about alcohol and tobacco. Alcohol is illegal for people under the age of 21. Before, tobacco was illegal for people under 18-19, but now, the law has been changed. People under 21 cannot consume tobacco. As you know, a lot of people under those ages still consume those products. A lot of people consume alcohol and/or tobacco because they think they’re “cool” or just to “impress” others. Others do it to “solve” their problems. The thing is, most of them don’t know what goes on with their body when they consume those products. They don’t know that they could die. The DARE book says, “There are 75,000 alcohol related deaths each year in the U.S.” From tobacco, we can count 450,000 deaths each year. 400,000 for the people that smoke, and 50,000 for the people that are around the smokers. Smokers might not know that if they do this daily they will have dental problems, memory loss, loss of self control, a heart disease, unhealthy bodies, a coma, and lastly … death. Please, I beg y’all, never smoke or drink alcohol. It’s not worth it. 

Now, what I think is the most important thing I learned in DARE is help network. Our help network can be composed by a trusted adult, friend, sibling, or even our pet. Our help network can help us with anything we need. I learned that if we have a loyal and trusted help network, we wouldn’t face all or most of the problems I mentioned earlier. If we’re being bullied, we can ask someone from our help network to help us. If we feel stressed, we can talk with someone from our help network. If we have problems with tobacco and/or alcohol, we can ask someone who we trust to help us get out of that situation. 

Lastly, the DARE Decision Making Model (DDMM). DARE Stands for Define: describe the problem. Assess: what are our choices. Respond: make a choice. Lastly, Evaluate: did we make a good choice. I feel like if we know what it means, we would be able to quickly find the problem and quickly find the solution. This, like the help network, will help us prevent most or all of the problems I mentioned above. 

To summarize, what I think are the most important things I learned while being in DARE were reporting bullying, stress, alcohol and tobacco, help network, and the DARE Decision Making Model (DDMM). I always try to avoid everything except help network and DDMM to stay safe, and to make sure I’m not doing anything I’ll regret later.

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