When we started D.A.R.E. in Madison County 25 years ago, I used to say that kids are kids no matter what age. That’s not entirely true today due to the challenging environments kids face every day. That’s not to say that there weren’t any challenges 25 years ago, but while they were different, they seemed to be fewer in number. Alcohol abuse, smoking, and marijuana as well as self-esteem and self-confidence were the major challenges.
The fact is that while those challenges still exist, they have been augmented by issues that kids did not face 25 years ago. Bullying has gotten more intense. Drug abuse and addiction and the dangers of heroin are now on the D.A.R.E. agenda. Technology has introduced kids to social media and communication techniques that were unheard of back then now thrust kids into compound and potentially devastating situations. The fact is that many of those kids are not prepared to handle those situations. Contributing to this unsettling state of affairs, society and the economy have produced strains and demands that have greatly changed the traditional family structure creating single-parent and two-income families.
This is the environment into which D.A.R.E. was introduced and has since been adapted.
D.A.R.E. is the national Drug Abuse Resistance Education program that got its start in 1993 in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It became part of school curriculums in Madison County in 1998. The goal then as it is now is to help kids make good decisions to lead healthy lives and avoid using tobacco, drugs, and violent behavior in the face of peer and societal pressures.
Through its 12-week program D.A.R.E. teaches awareness of situations in which kids are likely to find themselves at some point in their young lives. This is critically important because I still see more kids who are passive, lack self-esteem, and are unsure of themselves, and in some cases, are reluctant to talk to people they can trust such as parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, and relatives.
Modules have been developed in the D.A.R.E. program to help kids better understand and address those issues that affect their lives such as bullying, peer pressure, access to drugs and substance abuse, and Internet access through Facebook, and Twitter among others.
For example, in our high-tech environment that instantly allows kids to contact and communicate with each other across networks that go beyond a classroom, a neighborhood, a county and literally across the globe, the issues of self-esteem and self-confidence are at a higher risk than they were 25 years ago. Kids are so open about themselves and their families that, in turn, they don’t realize that they are putting themselves and at times their families in danger of bullying and rumors, as well as threats to home security and identity theft.
This is where D.A.R.E. has adapted changes to its program to help kids get an understanding of what they are doing to themselves such as when they send or blast “selfies” (personal photos) as well as stories or gossip about themselves and their friends into cyberspace or when they are approached with drugs such as heroin or crack cocaine.
D.A.R.E. recently has taken some hard knocks on its effectiveness. Granted, you don’t know if and how a kid applies what he or she learns in D.A.R.E. You can’t comprehensively gauge that.
However, while empirical rather than statistical in nature, there are indications that D.A.R.E. does work.
From the perspective of the schools in Madison County, superintendents and principals can say “yay” or “nay” to the program. Apparently, D.A.R.E. is meeting their curriculum needs as they have been contracting for the program with the sheriff’s office for the last 25 years.
Feedback from students is another way I gauge the effectiveness of D.A.R.E. Sitting at the end of a table in St. Patrick’s school cafeteria, I recently overheard some fifth-graders telling some of their classmates, “Don’t peer pressure me.”
I receive e-mails from former students who invite me to weddings and showers. Then there are those who have gotten into trouble with the law who call me to talk over their situation. While it is my hope and prayer that they can straighten out their lives, they have cultivated some degree of trust that I’m there when they need me. Be it in a dire or joyful situation, I feel that somehow D.A.R.E. has made a difference in their lives.
The core of this feedback rests on the relationship that develops between a D.A.R.E. instructor and his or her students. And I must say that the sheriff’s deputies who are D.A.R.E. instructors in our Madison County schools do a phenomenal job with this aspect of the program.
However, D.A.R.E. can’t stand alone on its own merits.
D.A.R.E. complements other school programs that provide healthy alternatives in which teachers and coaches provide a powerful influence. But that feeling of trust in responsible adults must be carried home for D.A.R.E. to be most effective.
I can’t emphasize enough how important that is: There must be a school and family involvement. We need more parents to participate in the D.A.R.E. family orientations we hold before we start the 12-week program. We need to reach as many parents as possible so that they can know the positive impact D.A.R.E. can have on their kids’ and their families’ lives.
When we started D.A.R.E. 25 years ago, with the help of then Madison County Sheriff Steve Saltsman; Dr. Jake Froning, former superintendent of London City Schools, now principal at St. Patrick’s School; the Hon. David Picken, county prosecutor, later municipal court judge; the Hon. Glenn Hamilton, judge of Madison County Juvenile Court; and myself, we didn’t have real long-term expectations for the program. We said, “Yeah, maybe five years.” Then it was 10 years and we wondered, “How long will it last?”
Well, after 25 years, the work is not quite done. More programs such as tutoring and games as well as safe places after school are needed to go along with D.A.R.E. And, once again, the messages and learning of D.A.R.E. must be received and reinforced at home.
D.A.R.E. we continue to try it? I hope so.
Dr. Lt. Teena Gallagher (ret.) serves as bereavement officer, chaplain, and D.A.R.E. instructor in the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. She has also headed up the Madison County D.A.R.E. program.