Some of you may remember back in 5th grade the D.A.R.E song. You know the song about staying away from drugs and making your own choices. Come on! It had little dance moves that went along with the words. Well if you don’t remember, heres an example of the Chapman Elementary school in Dublin Ohio singing at their D.A.R.E graduation. (play video) Who went through a program like this in their elementary school? According to the Ocean Shore Police, today D.A.R.E. is being taught in all 50 states, in more than 300,000 classrooms. However, this program is not as effective as it was originally sought out to be. Drug abuse is a tremendous problem that must be addressed by the community in order to aid in future prevention. Today I will be talking to you about the D.A.R.E program now and how it is slowly losing its popularity, my proposal on how to change it and how this will positively effect the younger generations.
D.A.R.E, standing for Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program, was founded in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department and eventually spread across the country. DARE is a primary, or universal prevention program. It targets children and youth before or around the age of experimentation, usually 5th graders. Today, the program reaches more than 26 million children every year in the United States. The non-profit program uses trained law enforcement officers to teach students about drug and alcohol resistance and prevention, and making good life choices. The hour-long classes typically run 10 to 17 weeks, depending on the school. The D.A.R.E. program enables students to interact with police officers or sheriffs in a safe and controlled classroom environment. This helps students and officers meet and understand each other in a friendly manner.
Since it was founded, D.A.R.E. has expanded to encompass programs for middle and high school students, conflict resolution, gang prevention, parent education, and after-school recreation and learning. The curriculum has also been revised over the years as a result of research findings and is now more interactive by promoting participation by students. D.A.R.E. has also established a Scientific Advisory Board to aid in self- evaluation and recommend program changes. Kathi Ackerman, director of Minnesota DARE said, “Its curriculum has been revamped at least 10 times since its creation.” Still, many districts have had to cut the program because it was too expensive and the outcome did not meet their standards. Julie Olson, director of elementary education said that the Rosemount-Apple Valley district had to drop DARE due to their $15 million budget shortfall. The district used the program for two decades; however it was cut from 18 elementary schools, saving the district $50,000 annually. Although the program has said it involves middle and high school students, research found that 80% of primary school students had experienced some D.A.R.E. education, but only 20% of middle school students and 10% of high school students were exposed to any follow-up drug use prevention. This is one of the great weaknesses within the program. Without a follow up lesson, kids tend to forget what they learned or simply think it does not apply to them anymore. Regardless of the positives DARE teaches, being exposed to these lessons in only one grade is not enough for it to become a way of life.
If we ask the question, does DARE help support healthy attitudes about drug use, increase knowledge and awareness of addiction, and increase skills important for youth to have, then the answer is without a doubt yes. However is this enough for our children? Their lives are at stake and if we do not see results, then we are not effectively doing our job. What the critics fail to recognize, is that no single program can be expected to have a lasting effect by itself. Namely, no one component in prevention is sufficient in and of itself to reduce the prevalence of drug use. For this reason, I propose an updated version of the DARE program. A version that will run throughout middle and high school, involve the parents, schools teachers, faculty and staff. This new program will continue on with all that is already in the DARE program; however, it will also include guest speakers, field trips and hands on activities. Volunteer guest speakers will range from previously abusive drug and alcohol users, current abusers and families of those that have lost a loved one to the disease of addiction. The lack of shock and “in your face” types of actions are what the current DARE program is missing. This may be due to the fact that its primary age group for students is in the elementary school level. Kids in middle and high school need to see these types of people for it to actually effect them. I know that every teenager thinks they are invincible and that they can do anything. They have the mindset, “That could never be me.” I did, but boy did I get a news flash when I went on a field trip with my criminal justice class to the Nassau Jail. A few of the inmates volunteered to tell their stories. There was this one beautiful girl sitting in the corner and I honestly thought she was part of staff, until she stood up and told her story about drug addiction. She happened to live in my town. How crazy is that? That definitely hit home to many of the students in my class. This is the type of shock value we need to express to our children for them to understand the actual reality that ones actions can lead to.
We can throw all of these stories onto a child or teenager, yet it cannot stop there. Parents who play a vital role in a child’s life, have to impose their influence on decision making to lead towards healthy choices. Within the program there will be parent and teacher seminars which will explain what the children are learning, the ways they are being taught and ways the adults can reenforce the lessons. The seminars for adults will also include the same guest speakers and opportunities to take the same field trips that the children go on. Finally these seminars will include how to detect signs of addiction, ways to sufficiently help your child and contact information for specialized therapists, rehabilitation centers and anonymous support groups. Some may see this as to be a bit heavy and too much for their children ages 10-18 to go through; however this is the harsh reality. We need to take action and take action now!
Drug abuse is still a popular fad amongst teenagers even with prevention programs like DARE. Obviously, we as a community are not effectively doing our jobs. With a revised version of DARE, students, parents and teachers will be able to work together to prevent this fad from reoccurring. Having hands on activities, guest speakers, field trips and adult seminars will create a more sufficient program to lead children towards a healthy future. Now think back to the DARE song that Chapman Elementary School performed. Can we only teach our children a cute song or can we actually send a message that will stick?