Pubdate: Fri, 09 Oct 2009
Source: Caledon Enterprise, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 The Caledon Enterprise
Author: Heather Abrey
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Some Caledon students were left uncharacteristically quiet during
Retro Bill's debut Canadian tour, but only between the fits of laughter.

Retro Bill, cited as the most sought after motivational speaker for
students from Kindergarten to Grade 12, is the official D.A.R.E (Drug
Abuse Resistance Education) "Safety Buddy", among many other things.
During his career, he has been a writer, director, producer, actor and
artist. He currently performs more than 300 shows a year, but until
now has never brought his lessons to Canada.

"Very inspiring," said one Humberview Secondary student as others
gathered around to get autographs and photos after the presentation.
In his fourth Caledon show, Retro Bill seemed to have the full
attention of Humberview's Grade 9 and 10s.

"You heard the uncomfortable giggles at the beginning," said Retro
Bill. But he promptly took control and told students they were not
living up to their full potential, as was evident by the garbage issue
in the school.

The motivational speaker arrived to find the school "looking like a
zoo" and a custodian named Anna hard at work. He immediately addressed
the issue at the beginning of the presentation, saying, "I thought,
these students are better than that. And you are."

The custodian was invited in front of the crowd for a standing ovation
as Retro Bill spoke to students about respect, not just for their
custodians, their school and themselves, but everyone around them.

During the assembly a wide range of issues were covered, from respect,
education and bullying to how to say no to drugs using some "weird"
diversionary tactics.

"It's nothing they haven't heard before," said Retro Bill, "but I
package it differently. Maybe I'm the first time they've really
listened and utilized what they've learned." The frank but funny
discussion did seem to have an effect, as a student later approached
the speaker to tell him that she had received two apologies before
even leaving the gym. Retro Bill himself received an apology - in
front of all the gathered students - from a boy who was less than
attentive during the presentation. "If you get one chuckler in the
crowd out of 3,000, that's extraordinary," he said after speaking with
students at several Caledon schools.

Retro Bill has been educating students across the United States for 10
years, a passion that arose from his own struggles as a youth. He
spoke about being bullied for his own differences, and afterwards went
into more depth about some of the experiences that led him to this

Growing up in Illinois, Retro Bill was a Boy Scout and desperately
wanted to reach the top rank of Eagle Scout. In Grade 8 another Boy
Scout tried to drown him. "He told me if I told anyone he would murder
me," the speaker explained. Out of fear, he never did have the chance
to reach the level of Eagle Scout, and the boy who threatened him is
now serving 20 years in jail for another offence.

"So I was afraid of the right person, but I did not do what I instruct
the students to do. which is tell the adults. And for the rest of my
life I have to live with the fact that a bully kept me from my true

Later, during his senior year of high school, a motivational speaker
came to speak to his graduating class about not drinking and driving
during the upcoming prom night. It was a "druggie" who thought the
presentation was very funny who later went on to kill Retro Bill's two
close friends in a head-on collision. "It just devastated all of us,"
he said.

While these details didn't feature in the presentations, Retro Bill
did tell students about the teasing and bullying he suffered, and some
of his own strategies for dealing with the problems, such as staying
positive when others are negative.

"I had boys bully me and push me in the hallways and I didn't even
know their name," Retro Bill told the crowd at Allan Drive Middle
School, which included students from Macville, Caledon East, Palgrave
and St. Nicholas Schools. "They want you to hurt; they want to bring
you down. Please do not take the bait. Two wrongs don't make a right.
they want you to do the same in kind. You don't win when you hurt
somebody, you bring yourself down."

Most of the kids in the crowds at both Humberview and Allan Drive have
participated in the D.A.R.E. program, which is a partnership between
police and educators to teach children about drugs and how to avoid
them when facing peer pressure.

Constable Gord Van der Grinten has been involved with the program for
six years and received a fairly enthusiastic welcome of his own.

"It's a win-win for the students, but when you talk to the parents
it's one of the best programs for starting conversation at home," said
Van der Grinten of D.A.R.E. "There's always going to be critics that
say it doesn't work. some people make bad choices. There are seat
belts in cars, but people still die in auto accidents."

One of the great benefits of the program, explained the Constable, is
the connection that students make with police. He spoke of going to
schools and getting applause, or going to the fall fair and having
students approach him to say hello after four or five years. "It's
incredible. It opens up barriers."

The Peel District School Board was not aware of any statistics on how
many children go on to use or avoid drugs later in life after
completing the D.A.R.E. program, but a Royal Canadian Mounted Police
(RCMP) survey done in 2007 found that 95 per cent of students "felt
attending the D.A.R.E. program helped them decide against using drugs
in future."

During his visit to Canada Retro Bill visited Mayfield Secondary
School, Herb Campbell Public School, Robert F. Hall Catholic School,
Humberview Secondary School, Allan Drive Middle School and St. John
the Baptist Catholic School. He presented his information in a manner
that kept the students quiet and attentive during serious moments, and
smiling and giggling during the more light hearted content.

"They took a pretty good dressing down from me at the beginning," said
Retro Bill of his visit to Humberview. He believes that he can take
that hard stance at times because he connects with students, is honest
with them and doesn't disrespect them, not to mention getting quickly
back to the lighter side of things. "I don't do it for yuks. I want
them to laugh because it disarms them."

But most importantly he wants all students to "Stay drug free, believe
in your dreams and treat each other with kindness." 
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