Pubdate: 05/16 1999
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.
Author: Matthew Taylor


BURLINGTON, Vt. - Ask Allen Charbonneau about the DARE drug education
classes he took, and the 16-year-old's face contorts like he's in
pain. ''We got a lot of stickers and T-shirts...but that's it,''
scoffed the sophomore, standing before a row of cars in the Burlington
High School parking lot. ''We'd sit there and do absolutely nothing
while some cop would run his mouth about `don't do this' and `don't do
that.' It was a waste.'' Charbonneau is not alone.

Burlington Police Chief Elana Ennis announced last week that she would
kill the program, long popular throughout New England, at the close of
the school year, calling it ''lame,'' and citing nationwide studies
showing it does not work. While outspoken proponents of the program
remain, several studies, including one by the Department of Justice,
have suggested that DARE is not worth the $750 million it still
commands each year.

The move will make Burlington the first major New England city to drop
the program, following the lead of Omaha, Houston, and Seattle, which
have sought newer strategies in the war on drugs.

''Basically, we need to update our approach,'' Ennis said. ''It's not
that the DARE program is bad, it's just that we can do more. I think
DARE is basically a feel-good program. The officers are great, and I
don't want to take anything away from them, but it's time to update
it. I think we can do a lot better.'' Initiated in Los Angeles in
1983, the Drug Awareness Resistance Education program burst into
schools nationwide on the coattails of substantial federal subsidies
from the Bush administration. The program, through a 17-week course
taught in classrooms by uniformed police officers, has a simple goal:
keeping youths away from drugs and violence. Officers employ a
hodgepodge of lectures, role-playing, and essays to warn children away
from temptation.

For years the program - used in roughly 80 percent of the nation's
school districts, including Boston - has been touted as a classroom
boon, a mix of education and entertainment that teaches children while
creating a bond with police officers. T-shirts and bumper stickers
bearing the motto ''DARE To Keep Kids Off Drugs'' have inundated the

And Burlington is no different. The DARE program is currently taught
in three Burlington elementary schools. A police officer teaches 17
lessons in classrooms for roughly an hour a week. This past Friday,
the Mater Christi School, a sprawling campus on a hill beside the
University of Vermont, celebrated its final DARE graduation, a festive
affair attended by parents and teachers. A final essay project
recapping the basic principles of the program is required for graduation.

Bill Ward, a Burlington officer who has taught DARE classes for seven
years, and who conducted the graduation Friday at Mater Christi, said
he thinks the program works and will be sad to see it go.

''I know it makes a difference,'' Ward said. ''I mix it up and make it
exciting for the kids. I bet if you asked a bunch of high school kids
what they thought of middle school math, they'd roll their eyes, too.
That doesn't mean it shouldn't be taught.'' Ward's assessment of the
program echoes that of national DARE officials, many of whom feel a
truly accurate DARE study would take years to complete and would cost
between $3 million and $5 million. Still, the official view remains at
odds with several studies conducted over the past five years. One of
the most exhaustive studies to date on the effectiveness of DARE was
conducted four years ago by North Carolina's Research Triangle
Institute, at the behest of the Department of Justice. The study found
the program's ''limited effect on adolescent drug use contrasts with
the program's popularity and prevalence. ...DARE could be taking the
place of other, more beneficial drug education programs.''
Massachusetts' Governor's Alliance Against Drugs surmised from various
studies that ''the conclusions are mixed as to the effectiveness of
DARE in decreasing drug use among students who have participated.''
But DARE executive Glen Levant has criticized the studies as
''flawed'' and has been quoted as saying: ''Scientists will tell you
bumblebees can't fly, but we know they can.'' Ennis said her decision
to halt the program was reached after police and education officials
identified the need for a more effective drug-education approach. What
that new approach will be, she conceded, is not yet clear. But some of
these alternatives may include switching the classroom speakers from
police officers to recovering addicts, and striving to impart deeper
truths about drugs and alcohol rather than teaching a code of sweeping

''We need to stay one step ahead of the kids,'' she said. ''I don't
mean to say it's a terrible program without merits, but it does need
to be updated. ...It's lame. Kids have said that to me.'' One
16-year-old Burlington freshman, who declined to give his name and
acknowledged occasionally smoking marijuana, criticized the program
for lumping all drugs together, making youths view harder drugs like
heroin and cocaine in the same light as pot.

''You'll never stop it,'' said the teenager. ''Look around this
parking lot. There's cigarettes in most cars. Kids are kids. You got
200 bucks, you can get anything you want.'' Edward Scott, director of
guidance at Burlington High School, is not surprised by the students'
reactions. Scott said he agrees that the DARE program does not work.

''One reason it's ineffective is that kids are too sophisticated these
days,'' he said. ''They're not impressed by the badge and the gun
anymore.'' Jennifer Cushman, a central Vermont teacher, tried a
different approach in her seventh-grade classroom. She brought in a
recovering drug addict to talk to the students. Her class, she
recalled, was rapt.

''They saw a human figure talk about how he got into drugs at their
age,'' Cushman said. ''He was able to show them what addiction was all
about, how horrible it is.'' In Scott's view, the key to drug
education is better integrating it into the curriculum, rather than
having a police officer visit the school once a week. School Resource
Officers - who are stationed in public schools - are a good start, he
said, but not the complete solution.

Chief Ennis plans to hold focus groups this summer to determine a
better approach. Her initial plan is to designate three police
officers who will be stationed in public schools. ''That's one part of
DARE I want to keep,'' she said. ''It's just that we can do better.''
One alternative Ennis likes is a program used in Los Angeles called
''Every Fifteen Minutes.'' The approach is to single out one student a
day, dress him or her differently, and not allow contact with other
students. The goal is to drive home the consequences of drinking and
driving. But beyond that, the chief admitted, it's touch and go.

''We're going to work on it,'' she said. ''It's too important a
message not to work at finding the right approach.''
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