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D.A.R.E. program returns to Unicoi County schools thanks to UCSD, EPD

Sgt. Chris Boings, left, and Officer Joel Ledford with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department introduce fifth graders at Temple Hill Elementary School to the 10-week-long D.A.R.E curriculum. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

The first D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) was implemented in Los Angeles in 1983 to arm kindergarten through 12th grade children with the skills needed to make sound decisions and avoid drugs or violence. According to the D.A.R.E. website, this program is taught in 75 percent of the nation’s school districts as well as in more than 52 countries.

Following at least a two year absence, the D.A.R.E program has now returned to Unicoi County schools thanks to the efforts of the Erwin Police Department and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.

Leading the classes for the UCSD are Sgt. Chris Boings and Officer Joel Ledford. They bring the program to fifth grade classrooms at Unicoi Elementary School on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and at Temple Hill Elementary School on Wednesdays.

“The program takes with some students and with others it doesn’t, but overall it has a positive impact,” said Boings. “When I first started teaching in 2009 it was more about drugs and violence and what to look out for with that, but now it’s more about making wiser decisions with your life so that you can stay away from those things.”

Ledford is currently shadowing Sgt. Boings, who has undergone an 80-hour inservice training session in Nashville for the D.A.R.E. program. The training is offered through the Tennessee Highway Patrol Training Academy and requires recertification every three years.

The D.A.R.E. program has different curriculums for elementary, middle and high school ages, and those curriculums are based on the Socio-Emotional Learning Theory that is geared towards healthy development through an emphasis on self-awareness and strong communication skills that lead to sound decision making.

“It’s an interactive program with workbook lessons, but the students get to work in groups in certain parts of the lesson,” Boings said. “It’s all about interacting with the students and also making them more familiar with law enforcement.”

They began the 10 week program at Temple Hill on Wednesday by giving the students D.A.R.E. name cards that listed “ways to be in charge.” The students took turns reading the suggested ways to remain in charge of their decision making.

Those suggestions included avoiding negative situations, maintaining strength in numbers, walking away or giving the cold shoulder, saying “no,” stating a reason or fact, repeated refusal, or using humor.

“This really is all about learning to make good choices,” Ledford told the fifth graders at Temple Hill.

Next, the students moved on to the D.A.R.E Decision Making Model that teaches students to define a problem, a challenge or an opportunity, assess their choices, respond by making a choice based on facts and information and evaluate their decision. 

“The DARE decision making model is something you all can go back to so that you can keep making good decisions,” Boings told the students. “Always remember you have options and you don’t have to go with the crowd. You need to try to make the best decision for you.”

After the students were familiarized with the D.A.R.E. Decision Making Model, it was put into practice for the first lesson. They were given a hypothetical situation where the students had to make a choice between attending a friend’s party or following through with a commitment to a sports team.

The students took turns sharing what they felt would be the best decision to make and why. Afterwards, Boings and Ledford broke down the possible benefits or consequences of each  choice using the D.A.R.E. Decision Making Model.

“These lessons are geared more towards making good decisions in life, not only in fifth grade, but as the kids get older so that they can stay away from negative influences,” Boings said.

The students will also learn about defining problems, followed by making safe and responsible choices, resistance strategies to harmful substances, evaluating decisions, confident communication, effective communication, reporting bullying, an informational D.A.R.E. word search and identifying a safe help network.

Inside the workbook there is also a personal journal where the students can write down their thoughts, as well as take notes on what they learned for the day. A box was also placed in the front of each classroom so that students may anonymously ask any questions they may not feel comfortable asking in front of their peers.

As Boings and Ledford finished up their lesson at Temple Hill one of the students inquired about the importance of the program and why they were teaching it.

“When I was your age I had the D.A.R.E. program right here, and you’ll see why it’s important the further you go along,” Ledford said. “It grows as you do, because if you think about it some of the decisions you’ll be facing in high school are much different from the decisions you’ll be facing in fifth grade.”

After finishing each of the 10 lessons, each student will have the opportunity to participate in a graduation ceremony where they will be awarded a certificate for their completion of the D.A.R.E. program.

• • •

The D.A.R.E. program is also being taught at Love Chapel Elementary and Rock Creek Elementary schools. Sgt. Eric Allen with the Erwin Police Department teaches the program to fifth graders at Love Chapel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

The Love Chapel Elementary School fifth grade class began working through the third lesson of the D.A.R.E. program last week. Sergeant Allen has several years worth of experience teaching the program, and was recently recertified for the second time.

“We work primarily with decision making skills, and I do different scenarios where they also work through the lessons in pairs or groups to build teamwork,” Allen said. “I think the D.A.R.E. program is right where it needs to be for the age group. It’s a good transition period for them to start realizing how to handle peer pressure before they start attending the bigger schools.”

The previous lesson Allen taught to the class focused on the negative impacts of alcohol and tobacco, and the lesson last week was intended to teach the students how to define and assess the risks and consequences in situations they may potentially find themselves in.

“It’s important to teach them that just because some of their peers might make poor choices, it doesn’t mean they have to,” said Allen.

One of the ways Allen has seen the program change over the years is that the students are able to follow fictional characters and watch videos of these characters making difficult choices that they could very well face themselves.

After reviewing with the students about what they learned on alcohol and tobacco, they watched a video on two of the fictional characters, Michael and his brother Josh. The class was asked to evaluate the consequences of Michael lying about his whereabouts and then asking his brother to lie for him.

Students in the class took turns evaluating the character’s mistakes and the risks involved in his decision making. Following a discussion of what a risk was, and how it could entail both positive and negative impacts, the students volunteered to define what a consequence was.

“A result that happens after making a choice,” said one student.

“What you have to face if you do something wrong,” said another student.

According to the D.A.R.E. program definition, a consequence happens as a result of a particular action and can be both positive or negative. To further illustrate the concept, Allen uses an example from his own life.

“I’ve been an officer for 23 years, and I took a risk when I decided to become re-certified to teach the program,” he told the class. “It could have had a negative consequence if I failed the course and wasn’t able to teach anymore. There was also a positive consequence if I worked hard and was certified. When making a decision you have to weigh out what can happen.”

Next, the students were asked to talk with their neighbors and identify three potentially risky situations. Some of the situations the students came up with included sneaking out of the house, trying out for a sports team, playing too many video games, and stealing from someone.

The students were then asked to use the first two steps of the D.A.R.E. decision making model, defining and assessing the situation, before discussing the possible outcomes with the scenarios they came up with.

The final scenario Allen discussed with the class came from the D.A.R.E. workbook and required the students to imagine what they would do if their best friend had been up late practicing for a school play and asked to copy their homework because they didn’t have time to do their own.

“A teacher could notice you let them copy your work and you could both get in trouble,” one student shared.

The students finished the lesson by reviewing the terms they learned for the day. Next week, the students will delve into a new lesson on peer pressure.

“This is such a great group,” Allen praised. “This is definitely the most rewarding job I’ve had in law enforcement. It’s good to get that one-on-one time with the kids.”