Pubdate: Sun, 22 Sep 2002
Source: Times Daily (Florence, AL)
Copyright: 2002 Times Daily
Author: Emilio Sahurie, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)


SHEFFIELD - Sgt. Scott Wallace had not even sipped his morning coffee
when the lecturing began in the principal's office.

On a recent Friday, Sheffield High School administrators joined
Wallace in talking to a student involved in a fight at a school
football game.

By 8:45 a.m., about an hour after school started, Wallace took a brief
break to clear his head, sip his coffee and do his rounds, pacing the
halls of the high school and the adjacent junior high building.

As a school resource officer, Wallace has the task of handling
security-related matters. As a Drug Abuse Resistance Education
officer, he has a more challenging job - keeping children away from

"Alcohol, violence, peer pressure," said Wallace, walking the halls of
Sheffield Junior High School dressed in a polo shirt and khaki pants
with a gun strapped to his side. "You would be surprised at the amount
of stuff they have been approached with, even in the fifth grade."

Officers such as Wallace are finding that it's a job that comes with
added scrutiny in an era of tight law enforcement budgets and
underpaid officers. With the D.A.R.E. curriculum under way in some
area schools, others have pulled the plug on the program that started
in 1983 in Los Angeles.

Last month, Cincinnati leaders voted to cease funding the program,
saying police officers would be better used for street patrols. Other
cities nationally that have stopped the program include Seattle and
Spokane, Wash., Austin and Houston, Texas, Milwaukee, Wis., and Omaha,

Despite these cities abandoning the well-known program, D.A.R.E.
remains in 80 percent of U.S. schools. In the Shoals, D.A.R.E. is
taught in Colbert and Lauderdale county school systems and in Muscle
Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia school systems.

The Florence Police Department, which started one of the state's first
police-led drug awareness programs in Alabama in the mid-'80s, uses a
combination of strategies. Florence Chief Rick Singleton said his
agency already had a program in place when D.A.R.E. became popular.
Officers have borrowed ideas from D.A.R.E. and other drug education
programs in leading discussions in Florence schools, Singleton said.

Nationally, D.A.R.E. pairs fifth- and sixth-grade classes with police
officers who lead talks on drug use, smoking, violence and other
pressures in the lives of young people.

More than a dozen studies have suggested the program has minimal
effect on reducing drug and alcohol usage.

D.A.R.E. was the target of criticism in 2001 when a U.S. surgeon
general's report said that the program's "popularity persists despite
numerous well-designed evaluations and meta-analyses that consistently
show little or no deterrent effects on substance use."

In a 1999 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical
Psychology, researchers evaluating 1,002 students 10 years after they
were exposed to D.A.R.E. found few differences in terms of "actual
drug use, drug attitudes or self-esteem."

But D.A.R.E. advocates say the 17-week curriculum introduces police
officers as friendly faces to elementary schoolchildren, while
building their self-esteem and confidence. Wallace, who saw his first
group of 10- and 11-year-olds graduate from high school last year,
will teach D.A.R.E. in six Sheffield fifth-grade classes.

"If they can come up with a different program, I am willing to try
it," Wallace said. "But if we save a child or two, D.A.R.E. is working."

Challenges for D.A.R.E.

Despite D.A.R.E.'s widespread acceptance - reaching 36 million
youngsters each year - it's been a program that has been an easy
target for critics.

Part of the problem has been that D.A.R.E. has not provided
longitudinal research, said Tuscumbia Police Maj. Carol Burns, the
state vice president for the Alabama D.A.R.E. Officers

Burns, who has taught D.A.R.E. to other officers, said the program
cannot be judged by a handful of children who fall through the cracks.
She points to many more students who never have a run-in with the law.

"There is always someone saying something is not right in our
schools," Burns said.

The perception of D.A.R.E. being more about officers' success stories
than hard data is changing, she said.

Funded by a nearly five-year, $13.6 million Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation grant, the University of Akron is evaluating D.A.R.E. and
developing new curricula. Eighty high schools and their 176 feeder
middle schools are participating in the study that will involve about
50,000 students.

Researchers plan to compare D.A.R.E. with a new version of the program
that will be taught at some of the participating schools.

Researchers say the study is aimed at improving a program criticized
for being ineffective and preachy. But rather than scrapping it
altogether - as the U.S. Department of Education once considered -
foundation officials hope to save the nation's only centralized drug
education program because of its wide reach.

Early research indicates that students are more aware of dangers such
as drugs and alcohol abuse, Burns said.

"There are things you can't measure, but you feel in your heart," she

D.A.R.E. is a great tool for school resource officers, but it may not
always get a fair shake, said Curt Lavarello, the director of the
National Association of School Resource Officers.

"Part of the problem is that D.A.R.E. is not flexible in many
different communities across the country," Lavarello said. "One
community may need a good curriculum for drugs; in another place,
bullying may be a larger problem."

Another problem often encountered is that talking about problems such
as drugs is something most parents don't enjoy doing with their own
sons and daughters. So it's easy to blame a program such as D.A.R.E.
if his or her child experiments with drugs or alcohol, said Wilson
Elementary School guidance counselor Sherry Gamble.

"The materials can be great," Gamble said. "But if a person doesn't
deliver it in a correct way, I don't think it's as effective."

D.A.R.E. Benefits

Even if it's not all drug education all the time, Wilson Elementary
School Principal Mary Napier said, children benefit from a role model.

"Most children see a police officer when there's something wrong,"
Napier said. "They know Officer Wallace is a friend to every student
in the school."

Area D.A.R.E. officers say the program allows them to build trusting
relationships with children who often confide in officers by telling
them personal information such as abuse and other problems at home.

Being a D.A.R.E. officer has been one of the highlights of Lauderdale
County Chief Deputy Ronnie Willis' career. D.A.R.E. certificates,
including a plaque recognizing him as Alabama's 1993 D.A.R.E. officer
of the year, adorn Willis' office.

To have a successful D.A.R.E. program, officers also must be role
models outside the school, Willis said. Being seen smoking a cigarette
at a ballgame or buying a six-pack of beer at the store can quickly
erode an officer's integrity.

"You have to be a role model," Willis said, "or you destroy their

Willis also said there must be an investment of time and caring by
parents for D.A.R.E. to be successful.

"What really counts is at home," said Willis, who led 5,500 children
through D.A.R.E. in his career. "You can teach it all day, but if you
have parents that do drugs, the children will be more likely to follow
in their footsteps."
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