Pubdate: Sat, 22 Apr 2006
Source: Chillicothe Gazette (OH)
Copyright: 2006 Chillicothe Gazette
Author: Lisa Roberson
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)
Bookmark: (Youth)


DARE Officer Julie Preston jokes around with Miss Greer's fifth grade 
class while handing out an assignment on April 12 at Tiffin elementary School.

The halls of Tiffin Elementary, filled with the chatter of school 
children and proud displays of their work are not foreign territory 
for officer Julie Preston.

While most people several decades removed from elementary school 
dread returning to such a building, Preston, dressed in her dark blue 
police uniform, walks the halls with a quiet confidence as she darts 
between fifth-grade classes.

She knows where she is going.

The parent of four children, Preston is not there to scold. Nor is 
she there to corral an unruly child. As she does every day, Preston, 
an 11-year veteran of the department, is there to teach 
impressionable 11- and 12-year-olds how to make wise decisions when 
it comes to drugs and alcohol.

It's called Drug Abuse Resistance Education.Taking the reins

Before Preston took on the daunting task, Officer Larry Cox took the 
program and made it his own by adopting an unwritten policy of 
getting to know each child. However, his vision of how the program 
should be run came to an end when a gunman accused of stealing a car 
and robbing a bank shot him last year while trying to escape.

Cox's untimely death was mourned by every man, woman and child in the 
community who knew him, and several others that didn't.

It also left those who knew Cox to wonder if and how the D.A.R.E. 
program could go on. The growing consensus was that no one could fill 
his shoes.

D.A.R.E. was first brought to the city in 1980 during Chief Tim 
Crawford's tenure under the direction of former city police officer 
Richard Groves, who now works as a part-time deputy with the Ross 
County Sheriff's Office in the county D.A.R.E. program.

Chillicothe police Chief Jeff Keener, familiar with how Cox operated, 
knew the next D.A.R.E. officer could never be like him. He has said 
all along the next D.A.R.E. officer would not be Cox's replacement. 
That person would have the desire to make the program his or her own.

Keener has kept that promise with the appointment of Preston to the position.

"She has the attitude and temperament to work with the kids," said 
Keener. "She been with the department for many years and is a good officer."

Keener said Preston's appointment was not a rash decision.

"Before Larry's death, he even knew she would make a great D.A.R.E. 
officer, so it was in the planning stages for a while," he said.

And, after a two-week intensive training course in northeast Ohio, 
Preston started work with the program in January.

"It's been a hard year," Preston, 37, said just weeks from the first 
D.A.R.E. graduations of the school year. "I'm always asked about 
Larry because the kids have so many questions, but everyone got 
D.A.R.E. this year."Daring duties

In the weeks to come, students across the district will show Preston 
everything they have learned this year.

The end-of-year reports are due.

And, as Preston makes her rounds in the classroom, students run to 
her, paper in hand, hoping she will approve of their essays.

"Marijuana and alcohol hurts your brain," said Raymond Stonerock, 11, 
reading from the essay he plans to type on a home computer for a 
better presentation. "It also affects a lot of other areas in the 
body like the heart and lungs."

Preston is quick to praise his work.

"That's good," she said. "What else have you learned? And, don't 
forget to make me a pledge to stay drug and alcohol free. It has to 
go at the end."

When Preston first walked through Stonerock's fifth-grade classroom 
at Tiffin Elementary, the bright-eyed boy wondered what the year would be like.

Cox, he said, was fun and always joked around, making D.A.R.E. enjoyable.

Preston said she also tried to make D.A.R.E. fun. But starting her 
curriculum in January as opposed to September meant she had to work 
harder in less time.

"For some of these kids, D.A.R.E. is not a luxury, but a necessity," 
she said. "They need this program because if you look at where many 
kids are coming from, you know they don't get it at home."

Yet, now that Stonerock and his class are nearing the end of the 
course requirements, his views on Preston have changed.

She does not teach like Cox, but that doesn't make her worse - just different.

"She's good," Stonerock said. "She taught us everything we need to 
know. Officer Cox would be proud of her."
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