Dar­ing to make a dif­fer­ence

Law of­fi­cers con­nect with stu­dents in the class­room

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By GRETCHEN PHILLIPS gphillips@somd­news.com

When a stu­dent of one of his drug abuse preven­tion classes ul­ti­mately ends up get­ting ar­rested, Deputy An­dre Mitchell of the Calvert County Sher­iff’s Of­fice may hear that the pro­gram failed.

“Why? Be­cause he made a mis­take?” Mitchell re­calls ask­ing.

Mitchell, a cer­ti­fied Drug Abuse Re­sis­tance Ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer who teaches the pro­gram in Calvert’s pub­lic mid­dle schools and three pri­vate schools, said peo­ple are hu­man and they will make mis­takes. That doesn’t mean law of­fi­cers in South­ern Mary­land should stop teach­ing stu­dents about safe and re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions.

Over the course of more than 30 years, the Drug Abuse Re­sis­tance Ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, known as DARE, has taught chil­dren through uni­formed of­fi­cers about drug preven­tion. The pro­gram has evolved from the ear­lier “just say no” ap­proach to now fo­cus­ing on re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions, all the while show­ing stu­dents that po­lice of­fi­cers are hu­man, too.

“Yeah, it’s taught by a po­lice of­fi­cer, but you’re go­ing to see I’m not this ro­bot that only knows how to ar­rest peo­ple,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, a mem­ber of the com­mu­nity ac­tion team with the Calvert sher­iff’s of­fice, said the abil­ity to go into the school and ed­u­cate al­lows him to show stu­dents he is sim­i­lar to them.

“Look, I’m here, we’re laugh­ing, we’re hav­ing a good time. I’m not writ­ing any tick­ets, I’m not ar­rest­ing any­one,” he said. Mitchell added that through the pro­gram stu­dents learn that he is a fam­ily man who en­joys play­ing mu­sic.

DARE be­gan in 1983 when the Los An­ge­les Uni­fied School Dis­trict teamed up with the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment to cre­ate a drug preven­tion pro­gram.

Claude Nel­son, DARE co­or­di­na­tor for Mary­land, said the Los An­ge­les schools ini­tially wrote a 14-les­son cur­ricu­lum and added more lessons to cover more is­sues in fol­low­ing years.

DARE Amer­ica, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that over­sees the pro­gram, was put into place to han­dle the na­tion­wide sweep as the pro­gram be­came more pop­u­lar, Nel­son said.

In the late 1990s, DARE Amer­ica was given the rights to the cur­ricu­lum. The pro­gram now de­liv­ers a Keepin’ It REAL (Refuse, Ex­plain, Avoid, Leave) cur­ricu­lum that fo­cuses on de­ci­sion mak­ing. The pro­gram now has 10 lessons.

Nel­son said since 2005 the ide­ol­ogy of DARE has been to help stu­dents be­come pos­i­tive cit­i­zens. The pro­gram has an el­e­men­tary, mid­dle and high school cur­ricu­lum.

The ma­jor­ity of pro­grams in South­ern Mary­land are de­liv­ered dur­ing the school year at el­e­men­tary and mid­dle schools. St. Mary’s and Charles also have sum­mer pro­grams that in­volve of­fi­cers work­ing with stu­dents. In St. Mary’s, a four-day Camp DARE is avail­able for in­com­ing fifth- and sixth-graders.

Charles County has en­rich­ment pro­grams led by of­fi­cers over the sum­mer and a Just Say No camp that is sim­i­lar to DARE and is for stu­dents who par­tic­i­pate in Stu­dents Against De­struc­tive De­ci­sions.

Of­fi­cer Sheilagh Cook, a school re­source of­fi­cer with the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, said she has been teach­ing DARE to fifth- and sixth-graders for three years and she likes the pro­gram “sim­ply be­cause of the in­for­ma­tion we pass on to the young kids.”

She said the pro­gram has stu­dents and of­fi­cers talk­ing and en­gag­ing in ac­tiv­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with top­ics like stress and peer con­flict and how to deal with it along with talk­ing about the ef­fects of al­co­hol and to­bacco.

Nel­son said the pro­gram also touches on bul­ly­ing, in­clud­ing cy­ber­bul­ly­ing, which is bul­ly­ing us­ing elec­tronic tech­nol­ogy such as so­cial me­dia.

DARE helps open stu­dents’ eyes to dif­fer­ent ways to ap­proach and han­dle sit­u­a­tions, Cook said. The dan­gers of drugs are wo­ven into con­ver­sa­tions but lessons aren’t geared specif­i­cally to them as much as in the past.

Stu­dents and of­fi­cers dis­cuss feel­ings and em­pha­size they are unique to each in­di­vid­ual, she said. Just be­cause some­thing may make one per­son sad doesn’t mean that same thing is not mak­ing an­other per­son an­gry.

Of­fi­cer Me­lanie Tyner, who is also a school re­source of­fi­cer in Charles, said the fifth-grade cur­ricu­lum em­pha­sizes re­sis­tance strate­gies. She said of­fi­cers teach about hang­ing around pos­i­tive peo­ple and non-users of drugs. She said the les­son talks about how there is strength in num­bers.

Mitchell said the lessons for el­e­men­tary and mid­dle school stu­dents are about “iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple in one’s life they can turn to for en­cour­age­ment and guid­ance.”

Tyner said those peo­ple can in­clude teach­ers and po­lice of­fi­cers.

“I al­ways tell them I’m a school re­source of­fi­cer,” she said. “Key word is ‘re­source.’ I’m a re­source for you. You can come and talk with me.”

Through­out the 10-les­son pro­gram, Cpl. An­gela Delozier, a DARE-cer­ti­fied of­fi­cer with the St. Mary’s County Sher­iff’s Of­fice and DARE men­tor for other of­fi­cers in Mary­land, said, “We try to teach them to be con­fi­dent” when it comes to say­ing no, whether to drugs or to other neg­a­tive ac­tiv­i­ties and sit­u­a­tions.

Of­fi­cers be­come teach­ers

Cook said DARE helps stu­dents look be­yond just what they per­ceive. “And that’s why I like it so much be­cause it en­com­passes so much for the kids and it also lets them see of­fi­cers in a teach­ing role.”

Of­fi­cers go through a two-week train­ing course each year to be cer­ti­fied. In that train­ing, they learn about the DARE pro­gram and how to ef­fec­tively teach it.

Nel­son said 15 Mary­land coun­ties and Bal­ti­more city par­tic­i­pate in DARE and there are 112 law en­force­ment of­fi­cers cur­rently cer­ti­fied, in­clud­ing 17 in Charles County, six in Calvert and five in St. Mary’s.

Of­fi­cers learn var­i­ous ways to en­gage stu­dents with­out lec­tur­ing, a tech­nique that Nel­son said doesn’t work.

Nel­son said the over­ar­ch­ing theme for the whole pro­gram is de­ci­sion mak­ing.

Delozier, who is the school re­source of­fi­cer for the Leonard­town school cam­pus, em­pha­sized the pro­gram has to be taught by a po­lice of­fi­cer who is cer­ti­fied in de­liv­er­ing the pro­gram. “The rea­son that is so awe­some is be­cause po­lice of­fi­cers have al­ready seen all this,” she said of some of the de­ci­sions that stu­dents may face.

Bri­anna Ede­len, a cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer with the St. Mary’s County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, helps with Camp DARE. She re­called Delozier teach­ing the pro­gram when Ede­len was a stu­dent at Mar­garet Brent Mid­dle School. Ede­len said the pro­gram in­flu­enced her, and her peer group, back in mid­dle school.

DARE wasn’t just about drug abuse, she said. “It’s about re­sist­ing peer pres­sure al­to­gether and be­ing truth­ful to your­self.”

The val­ues the of­fi­cers try to in­still, Ede­len said, are sim­i­lar to those many chil­dren hear from their par­ents all the time.

Eli­jah Pender, 12, a stu­dent at John Han­son Mid­dle School in Wal­dorf, said he liked that DARE was taught by of­fi­cers and hear­ing the lessons from of­fi­cers means more than hear­ing it from a reg­u­lar teacher be­cause of­fi­cers are the ones that are able to ar­rest peo­ple.

Pender said one thing he re­mem­bers from the DARE cur­ricu­lum when he was a sixth-grader was about bul­ly­ing and cy­ber­bul­ly­ing. Bul­ly­ing peo­ple on­line, Pender said, is “not cool what­so­ever.”

Of­fi­cers in­struct the stu­dents while in full uni­form, and Mitchell said that is vi­tal. “Kids need to rec­og­nize that the uni­form is not bad,” Mitchell said.

He said there are chil­dren who act like they don’t like po­lice, and when asked why they say they just don’t.

“That’s not a good rea­son,” he said, adding “we’re sup­posed to be the good guys.”

Mitchell said when he was in el­e­men­tary school he didn’t like po­lice be­cause his fa­ther once was ar­rested. No­body ever told Mitchell when he was a child what his fa­ther was ar­rested for and that is of­ten the case for other chil­dren as well, he said. He said of­ten no­body is telling them that their fam­ily mem­ber was ar­rested for sell­ing drugs or for as­sault­ing an­other per­son and that the po­lice are do­ing their job in ar­rest­ing them. In­stead, they just see the of­fi­cer as the per­son who came and took their loved one away.

Mitchell said he can show kids through DARE that he is a nor­mal guy just like them and that yes, his job means that some­times he has to en­force the law.

Tyner said DARE of­fi­cers have an op­por­tu­nity to build a rap­port with stu­dents. “They see us as hu­man be­ings … they see that we ac­tu­ally care,” she said.

Is it work­ing?

Delozier said there is no pro­gram out there that is a com­plete fix. “None what­so­ever,” she said. But she does be­lieve that DARE, like other preven­tion pro­grams, works. “I think they work be­cause they’re all built off the same con­cept,” she said.

Delozier said she wants her own chil­dren to be the best ver­sion of them­selves and pro­grams like DARE try to fos­ter that thought by help­ing stu­dents learn to make the best de­ci­sion for them at that time.

She said the pro­gram won’t reach ev­ery stu­dent. “You’re just not go­ing to,” she said.

Delozier re­called catch­ing a high school stu­dent once who de­cided to sell brown­ies laced with mar­i­juana at school. She re­mem­bered the stu­dent had gone through Camp DARE with her a few years be­fore and also went through DARE in mid­dle school dur­ing the school year with an­other of­fi­cer.

“Didn’t you lis­ten to any­thing we said?” she re­called ask­ing him. She said the stu­dent was em­bar­rassed, but wasn’t cer­tain if it was be­cause be­cause of his choice to sell the brown­ies at school, or just be­cause he got busted.

In those types of en­coun­ters with stu­dents, Delozier said, she tries to

STAFF PHOTO BY GRETCHEN PHILLIPS Of­fi­cers Me­lanie Tyner, left and Sheilagh Cook, two school re­source of­fi­cers with the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, talk with for­mer DARE stu­dents from left, Rashad Carter, 11, Al­izah Carter, 11, Shelby Kiesel,12, Riley Burns, 12, and Sa­manth Ver­ras, 12, about their ex­pe­ri­ences with the DARE pro­gram while tak­ing a break from Just Say No camp held ear­lier this month at the Col­lege of South­ern Mary­land’s La Plata cam­pus.

STAFF PHOTO BY GRETCHEN PHILLIPS

Cpl. An­gela Delozier talks with Ju­lian Collins, 9, dur­ing a Na­tional Night Out cel­e­bra­tion in Lex­ing­ton Park ear­lier this month about the first thing a per­son should do when en­ter­ing a car. Delozier speaks with stu­dents on a reg­u­lar ba­sis about safe de­ci­sions as a cer­ti­fied DARE in­struc­tor and school re­source of­fi­cer.

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