In many elementary and middle schools, police officers have been teaching healthy living programs for decades.  The first was called Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE).  It was replaced a few years ago by C.H.A.M.P.S (Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety).

Both programs stress the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but in recent years, the officers have added bullying, peer pressure, internet and social media safety to the curriculum.

As a TV newsperson, I am often invited to speak at the graduation programs, in which the students, usually fifth graders, are recognized for their efforts. It is always a very touching program, well attended by parents and grandparents watching their little one receive his or her first diploma.

My first impression of the program remains my current impression.  Any activity that exposes children to police officers in a positive way is a good thing. On the few occasions I saw a police officer at my school, it was because something bad had happened.  Either a student was in serious trouble, or something had happened to a family member, and a police officer was called upon to deliver the bad news. It is no wonder many of us grew up with a negative feeling when we saw an officer, or even a police car.

Both DARE and C.H.A.M.P.S. have their share of critics, claiming the methods are too pushy, or the students are too young to retain the message.  They say the children are still sheltered, and the fifth-grade lessons will be soon forgotten as their bodies change, and they are introduced to the temptations of teenage life.

The critics are right about one thing. There is no educational program that can keep every teen on the honor roll and out of the principal’s office.  The teenage brain is not wired to make perfect choices, every time. Where you and I see consequences, they see opportunity and adventure.

But when critics call the programs “scaremongering,” often citing increased drug use among teens, I beg to differ. If it sparks something good in one child in that classroom, that is time well spent.

I just spoke to a group of sixty-eight students at Rock Spring Elementary in Walker County, Georgia. A fifth-grader named Madison Thurman wrote an essay on bullying. I would like to share her words with you:

“Have you ever thought to yourself, how harmful can bullying really be? You may think your jokes are harmless, but to someone else it may be life changing.  Bullying can hurt people’s feelings, make an already bad home life even worse, or in some cases cause someone to take their own life. Every life choice has a consequence, and the person you meet may be fighting a personal battle you know nothing about.

When you are being a bully, you are responsible for someone else’s tears. You might be causing someone to feel sad and worthless.  Most people don’t know that I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I wear leg braces, and my joints dislocate daily.  I have experienced bullying just because I’m different.  I’ve been called “Robot Girl” and “weird,” and it hurts.  God made all of us different and special in our own way.  That’s what makes us beautiful.

There are many kids who have really bad home lives. They may be abused, neglected, or harmed by people they love. This could be happening to the person sitting next to you and you don’t even know it.  If a child is already being abused at home, being bullied at school can make it much worse.  They are already being broken down at home by people who are supposed to protect them. Their friends and teachers may give them the only love they are ever shown.

Child suicide is on the rise, and bullying is the number one reason.  Bullying causes depression and feelings of fear and sadness.  The child may feel like no one cares about them.  They may begin to struggle to stay focused or keep good grades.  Bullying can make a child think taking their own life is the only option.

One kind word can change someone’s entire day. We rise by lifting others up, and not pulling them down.  Bullying needs to stop today.  No matter what anyone may think, no act of kindness is ever wasted. In a world full of hate, you can choose to be kind.  I choose kind.”

Madison’s essay got a standing ovation from her fellow students, a few hundred parents and grandparents, a sheriff, a judge, and a school superintendent.  I don’t care what the critics say. This was time well spent, and it is a message worth sharing with children and adults.