Major Stuart Hughes' 25th year as head of the D.A.R.E. program came to a close on Tuesday afternoon when Brookfield's fifth-grade class graduated.

The 10-week program is built to teach the kids not only the value of avoiding the pressure to use psychoactive substances, but also to teach anti-bullying, anti-violence, and other coping skills.

"The program's model is built to be a life skill, so kids understand, really, how to deal with life," Hughes said. "It's an interactive program. They learn by giving back their experiences, or what they would do in a situation.

"It means a great deal to me, and I'll do it until I can't anymore."

Hughes said that, when he first started in the program, three other officers had recently left. In 2006, the program lost federal funding, and since then, D.A.R.E. has been almost exclusively donation-funded.

Aside from his canvassing, sometimes that even meant money directly from the veteran officer's own pocket.

"Just by the grace of God, this community supports the D.A.R.E. program, and we're very fortunate that people understand that any little bit helps."

The school district and police department presented Hughes with a placard to commemorate the 25 years and greater than 1500 lives he has touched through the program.

For the past 10 weeks, Hughes interacted with two classes for an hour apiece each Tuesday, and Officer Jon Bagley oversaw a pair of classes on Wednesdays.

Ryan Jenkins, Haven Stufflebean, Tessa Buckallew, and Ambrose Teel were chosen from their respective classes as winners of an essay competition reflecting the skills they have learned and the knowledge they have gained.

They each had an opportunity to read their essays during Tuesday's assembly.

Middle school principal Melinda Wilbeck said that the school district is tremendously appreciative of the partnership it has maintained with Brookfield law enforcement.

She earnestly believes in the program.

"The D.A.R.E. program is crucial, and it has been for some time," Wilbeck said. "It's not just about drugs, but it's about how we treat people as far as respect and courtesy. Those are things that become crucial in middle school, and we need to continue to reinforce those points. The D.A.R.E. program gives us a very deliberate curriculum to approach those topics."