Pubdate: Tue, 02 May 2000
Source: Star-Ledger (NJ)
Copyright: 2000 Newark Morning Ledger Co.
Contact:  1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, N.J., 07102-1200
Author: John Mooney


In Jersey City, DARE officers still preach anti-drug messages in many
of the elementary schools, but there's also a home-grown program to
bring in top students from the high schools to spread the word to the
younger charges.

In Toms River, the effort combines police officers combining DARE, or
Drug Abuse Resistance Education, with other strategies that teach
broader lessons about how to cope with the peer pressure that could
drive a child to drugs or alcohol.

The potpourri of programs is a growing pattern in New Jersey
districts, where drug prevention has become a mix-and-match of
approaches that has gone well beyond the brochure-toting police
officer and the "Just Say No" posters of years past.

But as drug abuse among the nation's youth fails to ebb, a new
national survey that included New Jersey found that schools continue
to rely too much on DARE and other methods that it claims are
unproved, while not spending enough time teaching students how to deal
with the personal pressures that often lead to substance abuse in the
first place.

In fact, DARE in particular continues to expand in New Jersey and
elsewhere, despite the ongoing dispute over how much good it does.
Nearly four in five New Jersey districts now have DARE programs in at
least one grade, according to the state.

"It is not enough for a teacher, a parent or a police officer to tell
schoolchildren that 'Drugs are bad for you, don't use them,'" said
Denise Hallfors, a professor at the University of North
Carolina-Chapel Hill and chief author of the survey.

"We have to go beyond that," she said. "We have to use role-playing
and skills learning to help children negotiate with peers and make
positive choices."

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Hallfors polled 81
school districts in New Jersey and 10 other states on their
drug-prevention approaches in the two years since new federal rules
required certain criteria, or "principles of effectiveness," in the

Through its Safe and Drug-Free Schools grants, the U.S. Department of
Education now mandates that funded programs undergo continuing
evaluation, follow clear goals, and be backed by proven research.

First created by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1983 and now a
staple of schools nationwide, DARE has been widely criticized for
falling short in those tests and failing to make a significant dent in
substance abuse among children and teenagers. A 1997 U.S. Department
of Justice report also found the program didn't help keep kids off

In New Jersey, one in eight high school students uses drugs or alcohol
on a regular basis, a figure unchanged since 1995, according to the
state Attorney General's Office.

Yet the new national survey found DARE and other popular-but-maligned
school programs -- such as "McGruff Drug Prevention" and "Here's
Looking at You" -- haven't suffered for the criticism.

Of those polled nationwide, the survey found 82 percent of the
districts have DARE programs and 53 percent use Here's Looking at You.

Hallfors credits DARE's continued presence to its aggressive public
relations, not to mention the naturally strong ties between schools
and local police departments.

"DARE remains wildly popular out there," she said. "But if you look at
the scientific research that does random trials of students undergoing
the programs and those not, the results are not there."

DARE officials here and in the program's California headquarters
roundly decried the report yesterday, with one citing "more than 50
studies proving our effectiveness" and another questioning Hallfors'
methodology. They also maintain they meet the new funding standards.

"This report is totally inappropriate and false," said Nicholas De
Mauro, founder of DARE New Jersey and a former New Milford police
detective. "We do go beyond just telling students not to use drugs.
Our whole curriculum involves role playing and skills development . .
. The key to any successful drug program is to make it as
comprehensive as possible."

Inside several New Jersey districts with long histories with DARE as
well as new allegiances to alternative programs, the verdict on what
works best was more complicated.

Moorestown schools employ DARE officers but also the Here's Looking at
You curriculum commonly taught in health classes, as well as peer and
conflict resolution programs.

"There's a whole list of them in any school," said Albert Borris, the
district's substance awareness coordinator. "It's the programs that
reinforce every single day the consequences of substance abuse that
are most successful.

"Can DARE do that? Yes," said Borris, who is vice president of the
coordinators' statewide association. "Can it do it alone? Absolutely

The Jersey City school district was among those participating in the
UNC-Chapel Hill study and was among the majority that listed DARE
officers in its elementary classrooms.

But counselors in New Jersey's second-largest school system agreed
that a mix of approaches is the most successful.

"When you ask what works best, there isn't just one way," said Carlos
Mercado, one of two district-wide substance awareness coordinators.
"You have to look at it from a comprehensive standpoint."

In addition to DARE officers in the elementary schools, the district
lists a half-dozen other programs in its artillery. Included are the
Here's Looking at You 2000 program for all grades, the video-based
Project ALERT program for middle schools, and another one created by
the district in which each of the five high schools enlists 10
outstanding students to speak in the elementary schools.

"These are kids who grew up in the same neighborhoods and say, 'Look
at me, I'm going to college, I'm a successful student,'" said Dan
Waddleton, also a substance awareness coordinator. "It's not only
'Just Say No,' but how to say no."
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