Columbia Public Schools eliminate DARE program, consider alternative methods

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Public School District is looking into new ways to educate elementary students about drug and violence prevention now that school resource officers will no longer teach Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

The elimination of the DARE program is because of concerns about school resource officers taking time away from patrolling Columbia’s middle and junior high schools to lead DARE classes at elementary schools, said Detective Jeff Westbrook, a spokesman for the Columbia Police Department.

Officer Jessie Haden, a Columbia Police Department spokeswoman, said teaching DARE a couple of hours a day doesn't seem like much until the time is added together.

Nearly 850 hours a year have been put toward the DARE program in the past, said Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education for the district.

While teaching, the DARE officers' main responsibility was education instead of law duties. Enforcement was not typically performed when the resource officers were at the elementary schools, Westbrook said.

School officials are determining what to do next. Since DARE is taught in fifth grade, one method of teaching drug and violence prevention would involve incorporating the concepts into the health curriculum, Brown said.

John Warner, a school resource officer and chief DARE instructor, agreed with the importance of introducing the topic at this age.

"The idea of placing it at a fifth-grade level lets you talk to them before they have the potential for drug abuse," Warner said.

Warner hopes that even though the DARE program has not worked for all, that an equal replacement will be set in place for this "starting place" of drug education.

"I can say as a 20-year veteran of the DARE program, I've seen the positive results over and over again," Warner said.

These concepts are reinforced in the classroom when students enter middle school, Brown said.

"What we all agree on is the importance of the students establishing relationships with the school resource officers," she said.

The decision to eliminate DARE was a joint effort of the schools, the Police Department and the district, Haden said.

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Brittany Petersen July 7, 2009 | 8:55 a.m.

This seems ridiculous. I loved participating in the DARE program, and I think it should remain a part of the fifth grade experience. Adding the curriculum taught by DARE to the health curriculum will not be nearly as effective. Kids love when visitors come to school, especially police officers, because most likely many kids have never met an officer. Not to mention the fun you have. My DARE officer handcuffed us, so that we would know how it felt. It was one of the coolest experiences. Plus, I was the DARE essay winner, and that was such an awesome memory. I wrote about gangs. Clearly, DARE is something that I never forgot and I think by getting rid of this program, many kids are missing out on such a great experience!

(Report Comment)
Thomas Green July 7, 2009 | 11:49 a.m.

I strongly suggest that Columbia Public Schools district to consider alternative funding for programs such as DARE. I am sure there are drug and violence prevention education grants out there that CPS could get.

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