Pubdate: Fri, 04 Jan 2002
Source: Whitehorse Star (CN YK)
Copyright: 2002 Whitehorse Star
Author: Sarah Elizabeth Brown
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)


The biggest drug and alcohol education program in North America aimed at 
youngsters may be coming to the Yukon.

Both the Education department and the RCMP are looking at whether the DARE 
program - Drug Abuse Resistance Education - would be appropriate for the 
territory's elementary schools.

The project is very much still in the beginning stages. Currently, 
Education curriculum staff are researching whether the substance abuse 
program would fill any gaps in what's currently being taught. Watson Lake's 
Johnson Elementary principal, whose previous school had the program, asked 
the department to look into DARE.

As well, the RCMP are determining whether they have the staffing resources 
to deliver the program, at the request of officers from two Yukon 
detachments interested in bringing it to their communities.

Over 17, hour-long weekly or bi-weekly lessons, a uniformed police officer 
teaches Grades 5 and 6 students about drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, their 
effects and the various pressures to try them.

Students use group work and role-playing to practice ways to say no to 
drugs and violence. They learn about self-esteem, stress and media 
influences on their choices, and students are encouraged to surround 
themselves with positive role models and friends, as well as choose 
positive alternatives to marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol.

Workbooks, teaching aids and graduation materials like T-shirts cost about 
$20 per student. Police donate the DARE officer's time, but there's also 
the cost of an officer's two-week training course. Often, service and 
community groups help pay for DARE.

Started in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department, it's estimated 
thousands of police officers teach DARE in 60 per cent of U.S. schools, as 
well as in a dozen or so other countries. In Canada, B.C. and Alberta 
schools and police have taken on the program the most enthusiastically.

In his first of two years teaching DARE when he was posted in Alberta, 
teachers asked Whitehorse RCMP Const. Shawn Lemay to present it at the 
Grade 7 level instead of Grades 5 and 6, which it's designed for. The 
second year, he taught it at the younger grades instead.

"What I found the most interesting was my biggest fear - is that I was too 
late," said Lemay. "The majority of the class had been exposed to marijuana 
in Grade 5, they had tried tobacco in Grade 5 and they had experimented 
with alcohol in Grade 6. And here I was arriving when they were in Grade 7 
and I was telling them these things were bad for them, don't even try it."

Paul Gish, principal at Eastwood School in Edmonton's inner city, said many 
of his students have seen the effects of alcohol and drugs in their 
families or communities, and many face poverty. He also said a large number 
of first nations students attend Eastwood. In his five years with DARE, 
he's taught at both Eastwood and at suburban, middle-class schools - and 
DARE works better in his inner city school, he said.

"That's something the children see, so they need it explained to them.... 
They're used to seeing needles. They're used to seeing the drug dealers," 
he said. "I sometimes wonder in schools where children don't have that 
experience whether it's a good idea to be teaching it there."

With no frame of reference, information about drugs and alcohol may 
overwhelm the students, and tweak their curiosity, said Gish.

He adds that he thinks police need to be in schools to give students their 
perspective, change the attitudes of young people who usually only see cops 
when they're busting someone for drugs - and also for police to learn about 
the students' views.

A big reason why police organizations are so supportive of DARE is because 
it does get officers and young people interacting in a non-threatening 
atmosphere. As part of the RCMP's national youth strategy, detachments are 
encouraged to use substance education programs such as DARE. Yukon's "M" 
Division is one of two divisions chosen to run youth strategy pilot projects.

To Lemay, the biggest success of DARE is that it can open a door between 
children and parents to talk about drugs and alcohol when the young person 
comes home excited about something he learned in DARE class.

"Kids want to learn from Mom and Dad, they really do," said Lemay. "Even 
though Mom and Dad aren't professional teachers, they're probably one of 
the best teachers in that young person's life."

DARE can be a controversial program - and both educators and the RCMP are 
leery about early publicity of the project. The RCMP in particular don't 
want to be seen as pushing the program into schools.

Cpl. Peter Greenlaw, who heads up the local RCMP's drug awareness unit, 
said he thinks it boils down to some people not being comfortable with 
police in schools. Part of his job is to review substance abuse programs to 
see if they'd work here.

"My view is that I go where I'm invited," he said. "I offer my services and 
if they want me, great, but I don't impose myself on anybody. Some 
communities like to handle their problems in-house and they don't want the 
world knowing what their problems are. And that's fair."

B.C.'s RCMP drug awareness coordinator, Staff Sgt. Chuck Doucet, said 
recently much of the criticism levelled at DARE also comes from 
organizations that want to legalize drugs or those with competing programs.

He also said those who oppose DARE often quote studies that found the 
program didn't have an effect on students' drug use in a particular 
community to argue it doesn't work at all.

Much of the inflamed rhetoric is the result of DARE getting caught up in 
larger debates between the left and the right in the U.S., said Gary 
Roberts, the lead writer of a Health Canada-sponsored Canadian Centre on 
Substance Abuse review of school-based substance abuse education programs. 
That review was scheduled to come out in December, but hasn't yet been 

Roberts' group read 100 studies examining 90 different programs; for DARE, 
they reviewed 10 studies.

In evaluating both the quality of programs and studies, the group came up 
with the top 35 programs. DARE didn't make that list, he said.

One complaint levelled at DARE is that it's difficult for police officers 
with two weeks' training to be effective teachers. Roberts said it's 
becoming standard opinion that the quality of teaching is just as important 
as the information presented.

Lemay said a key job of the DARE officer is to stay current with new 
information and techniques.

"It's nowhere near an education degree but what many DARE officers have 
said coming out of that course is that it's made them a better police 
officer," said Lemay. "It's made them more effective at doing presentations 
because of the class management component of the course."

Roberts noted most programs aren't able to demonstrate they keep more kids 
off drugs either. However, he said, DARE has something to offer because it 
is one of the few programs being taught on a regular basis - and it's 
important that police officers are willing to get involved in preventing 
drug abuse.

DARE recently underwent a curriculum review and the changes are now being 
piloted in U.S. schools.

Judith McIntyre heads up the personal and career counselling portion of the 
Education department's curriculum unit that's looking into DARE.

"My concern is the effectiveness," she said. "I've been in education for a 
long time and I've watched all this stuff come and go. If all the drug 
programs were successful, we wouldn't have kids using drugs."

She calls the drug and alcohol problem in the Yukon an "epidemic." Only 
when the entire community - not just schools - decide to deal with the 
problem will something really happen, she said.

A few years ago, Yukon schools brought in the Career and Personal Planning 
program (CAPP), which teaches students from kindergarten to Grade 12 
problem-solving and goal-setting skills. Starting at the earliest grades 
running to graduation, substance abused education is a part of CAPP.

"And that's a poor second to parental interaction because the parents model 
behaviour," said McIntyre.

Starting young before behaviour patterns are set and continuing with 
substance abuse education through a student's entire school career is the 
only way to avoid "parachute" programs, she said. Parachuting refers to 
short-term programs that are dropped into a school when a crisis hits.

Roberts said drug abuse education is much more likely to be effective if 
the school's message is reinforced by the DARE officer, by parents, by the 
church group leader and the hockey coach.

As part of the committee to be formed to research DARE and come up with 
recommendations about its use in Yukon schools, McIntyre will do as much 
research as she can, but in the end it's largely up to schools whether they 
use a program, she said.

The RCMP, Education department and the alcohol and drug secretariat have 
been working together on a school, and eventually community-wide, Substance 
Abuse Strategy and Solutions for the Yukon (SASSY) since 1998.

In the school programs within SASSY, both the RCMP and ADS provide resource 
material and have staff available to do class presentations. It's a 
long-term approach that brings in outside partners when they're needed 
instead of simply having out-of-context drug and alcohol lectures with no 
preparation or follow-up for students, said McIntyre.
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