Pubdate: Sat, 03 Mar 2001
Source: Waco Tribune-Herald (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Waco-Tribune Herald
Author: Martha Ashe
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)


More than five years after pledging to remain drug-free for life, 
Waco high school students' memories of the DARE program are little 
more than hazy images of a dog mascot and T-shirts.

"I can't even remember what DARE stands for anymore," said Jerrid 
Fletcher, a freshman at Waco High School.

Eighteen years after it was founded, the Drug Abuse Resistance 
Education program, featuring the "Just Say No" slogan, is taught in 
80 percent of American schools and in 51 other countries.

Critics for years have claimed the DARE approach, which takes 
fifth-grade students through a 17-week course culminating in their 
pledges to stay away from drugs, is too simplistic.

They point to studies that show that kids who go through the DARE 
program are just as likely to abuse substances as those who don't go 
through the program.

Now, national leaders of the popular program seem to agree and are 
developing a change in the DARE curriculum.

But Randy Plemons, chief deputy of the McLennan County Sheriffís 
Office, said the planned changes to the program aren't substantial, 
likening them to a change in the DARE curriculum about six years ago.

Plemons, who was one of the original DARE officers hired when the 
county first implemented the program in 1988, disputed the research 
questioning DARE's effectiveness.

"For every study that says DARE doesn't work, I can find one that 
says it does," Plemons said.

The proposed changes to the national DARE program, which will be 
tested in six U.S. cities, will involve the kids in more hands-on, 
problem-solving activities.

The DARE officerís role is changed from that of lecturer or teacher 
to that of coach, and the new program will be tested at the seventh 
grade, when students are older.

But Plemons said a DARE curriculum for middle and high school 
students already exists. McLennan County doesn't use them, he said, 
because of a lack of funds.

McLennan County is spending $232,595 this year to fund the DARE 
program, including salaries for five full-time officers, vehicles, 
office equipment, training and DARE materials.

The five officers work with fifth-grade students in 18 McLennan 
County school districts.

While he acknowledged that a seventh-grade program could help 
students as they grow older, Plemons said "someone would have to work 
very hard" to convince him that the program should not start in the 
fifth grade.

"I am a very strong believer that you can't start early enough with 
drug and violence prevention," he said. "Some of them are already 
lost by (the time they reach) the junior high level."

But some Waco students disagreed with Plemons, saying students need 
more help with peer pressure issues when they are in seventh grade 
than when they are in fifth grade.

"That's when you need it," said Waco High senior Sarah Carter. 
"That's when you start worrying about cool clothes and stuff like 

Chantilly Jarrett, a 15-year-old University High sophomore, agreed.

"I do think yaíll start that DARE thing too early," Chantilly said. 
"Because when youíre in the fifth grade you donít ever get around 

"The peer pressure starts later. A lot of seventh graders, that's 
when they start thinking they're grown up and stuff."

Some high school students said they remember little about the drug program.

"I remember the big (mascot) dog," said Carter, 18.

Still, students said, the program works.

Some said they have been in situations where liquor and drugs are 
available or have seen others using drugs. But they said they refused 
to partake.

"I've been to parties where they had stuff," said Waco High junior 
Esmeralda Vega. "But I just don't want to mess myself up."

Adrienne Villarreal, a University High senior, said she recalls 
viewing DARE videos of people who were under the influence of alcohol 
or illegal substances.

Those videos, Villarreal said, depicted how people under the 
influence "act stupid, forget stuff," a vision she said continues to 
turn her off to the idea of using alcohol or tobacco.

TyQuonna Gilmore, a University High sophomore, said between society 
and the media, teen-agers are surrounded by the issue constantly.

"I think about it," she said. "You see it all the time. Itíd be hard not to."

UHS sophomore Derrick Davis, 16, said substance abuse prevention 
education continues in high school.

Teachers in his health-science classes at University High have shown 
videos of how smoke damages lungs, and Derrick said it's enough to 
prevent him from smoking.

"I've thought about (using tobacco or illegal substances), but I've 
never done it," he said. "And I'm not ever going to do it, because 
drugs are bad for you."

Kevin Sykes, a junior at Waco High, said he didn't go through the 
DARE program because it wasn't offered at the private elementary 
school he attended.

But the 16-year-old, who plays football and baseball, said he doesn't 
feel any less able to cope with the issue than he would if he had 
gone through the program.

Parental guidance is more important in helping kids stay away from 
drugs than "just saying no," Kevin said.

Plemons, the sheriff's chief deputy who has worked with the program 
for nearly 13 years, agreed that parents play a strong role in 
helping kids. The DARE program, he said, emphasizes that.

"It takes the school and the parents and the police for it all to 
work," Plemons said.
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MAP posted-by: Kirk Bauer