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Safety class graduation for fifth-graders
Carolyn Rentz CHAMPS student of the year
Bryan County sheriffs Cpl. David Hicks stands with Long County CHAMPS Student of the Year Carolyn Rentz. - photo by Photo by Kayla Rand

Walker Elementary School in Ludowici had its annual CHAMPS graduation for participating fifth-grade classes.

Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety, formally known as CHAMPS, is a 12-week program that promotes participation in activities that are nonviolent, drug- and alcohol-free, and that promote safety.  

“It was started in 2004 by the Georgia Sheriffs Association and was designed to prepare fifth-graders for middle school and life,” said Bryan County sheriff’s Cpl. David Hicks, the program facilitator. “We felt that there were other programs that weren’t fitting their needs, so we created the CHAMPS program.”

The weekly, hour-long lessons include Internet safety, bullying, alcohol, drugs and outdoor activities such as boating and hunting.

“The program is all about our kids,” Long County Sheriff Craig Nobles said. “We want to keep them safe and healthy.”

More than 200 students participated in Long County, and each was recognized with a participant certificate.  

“My favorite part of CHAMPS was learning about boat safety and the drunk-driver’s test,” student Grayson Wiggins said. “The boat safety is really good because the summer is coming up.”

During the May 15 program there was a poster contest, in which the top five winners were awarded, and an essay contest, in which one winner received an award.  As for the grand prize, a CHAMPS Student of the Year award was given to the one participant who not only excelled in the program, but also in academic subjects.

The guest speaker was WTOC-TV news anchor Sonny Dixon. He opened with his connection to the community and how he will spend his retirement doing things he wants, including speaking at more CHAMPS graduations.  

“I will continue to support this program because it is designed to teach you how to be healthy, which I believe should be mentally, socially and spiritually,” he said.  

He added that it breaks his heart to watch CHAMPS graduates fail to follow the program’s ideals as they grow older, and then he has to report on crimes they committed. He ended by congratulating the students and explaining that they need to retain the information they learned and use it for the rest of their lives.  

“I had a parent come up to me who told me she stopped smoking because of the things her child told her he learned from the program,” Hicks said. “When I can reach out to the parents, not just the kids, it shows that the program is working.”  

The program ended with Hicks presenting the teachers of the participating students with gifts of appreciation.

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