ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – More than five dozen fifth graders from two Atlantic Highlands schools graduated last week from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program run by the Atlantic Highlands Police Department.

“Part of this is getting the kids to know police officers and to know that cops are people too,” said AHPD Patrolman Stephen Doherty, who heads up the local D.A.R.E. program with Patrolman Stephen Vogt.

Doherty, known to local kids as “Officer Steve,” along with Vogt conducted the program during the recent school year. The two officers visited regularly with 5th graders from the Atlantic Highlands Elementary School and Mother Teresa Regional School to talk about drugs, alcohol abuse, computers and bullying.

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Atlantic Highlands Police Department patrolman Stephen Vogt (L) and Stephen Doherty (L) congratulate AHES student Paige Huff on graduating from the school’s D.A.R.E. program.

“We talk a little bit with them about computers, and computer bullying,” said Doherty. “Most of these kids are very smart when it comes to computers.”

The AHPD oversees the program, and police Chief Gerard Vasto has given Vogt and Doherty the time and tools necessary to conduct the D.A.R.E program.  Each of the officers had to go through special training to teach the classes, which have been part of Atlantic Highlands Police Department for about 20 years.

“The kids are great,” Doherty said. “The kids in the 5th grade are smarter than you could imagine.”

In one session, the officers also showed students what happens when they stop someone of allegedly driving drunk.

At each session with the students, Doherty and Vogt talk to students about the risks and health hazards of using drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Students learn about peer pressure and how to have drug and violence-free lives. Doherty credited AHES teachers Judy Grasso and Lisa Paril for helping make the program work smoothly at the school.

The officer-led D.A.R.E. program was created in Los Angles in 1983 and is now offered at 75% of the nation’s schools and in 43 countries around the world.

Students showed off what they learned at the AHES D.A.R.E. graduation by singing songs they crafted that included messages they picked up through the program. There was also an essay contest and each participant received certificates that they completed the program.

Doherty knows the program works and believes that down the road, a 5th grader today will come up to him as a teenager or adult and say the program changed them for the better.

“The kids make the program,” Doherty said.