Newly DARE-trained police officers spend morning at Bastian ElementarySep 20, 2021 04:07PM ● By Karmel Harper
By Karmel Harper | [email protected]
On Aug. 5 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., police officers hung out, ate pizza, and played games with 82 fourth – seventh graders at Bastian Elementary School in Herriman. The event was the culminating activity for police officers freshly trained in the D.A.R.E. program.
Prior to the event, 23 officers in Utah and surrounding states underwent an intensive two weeks of all day D.A.R.E training. The training provides the officers the knowledge and skills necessary to lead the D.A.R.E curriculum in their local schools. The culminating activity provided the officers real life experience in presenting and interacting with kids and is the final step prior to the officers’ D.A.R.E. graduation.
Herriman police officer and D.A.R.E mentor officer Jake Cutright said, “The best part of being a mentor for new D.A.R.E officers is when they get the chance to teach in front of the kids. The two weeks of training finally makes sense to them and they feel the joy of connecting with kids in a positive manner. Officers don’t usually get rewarded or feel rewarded after going to calls. But D.A.R.E. officers are rewarded every day when they walk into the classroom.”
For those of us in school in the 1980s and 1990s, we remember being taught the anti-drug D.A.R.E. program which originally stood for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a curriculum taught by police officers in our schools and was lecture-heavy with drug facts and light on student interaction. Though the highly popular program spread to 75% of U.S. schools, a decade of research has proven that merely telling kids about the dangers of drugs and admonishing them to stay away from them was ineffective for significantly reducing substance abuse.
While the original D.A.R.E. curriculum was created by police officers and teachers, in 1998 behavioral scientists suggested a different approach based on research into successful behavior-change techniques. The revamped curriculum, called “keepin’ it REAL,” was created in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania under the guidance of D.A.R.E America’s scientific advisory committee. It focuses less on lectures and more on interactions, role-plays, and adopting strategies for better decision-making.
Officers teach four ways to say no to friends by keepin’ it REAL: Refuse, Explain, Avoid, and Leave. Kids interact and role-play various situations to practice this tactic. Through these regular, weekly interactions, kids truly get to know their school resource officer, befriend them, and trust them as a place of safety and help when they are in trouble.
Although D.A.R.E. originally began as a drug education program, the new curriculum provides enhancements such as lessons on mental health, suicide, bullying, social media, and stress.
Bountiful’s Tibby Milne, D.A.R.E’s Utah State Coordinator, has been involved with the program since 1988, just a few years after its creation in 1983. She experienced the evolution and vast improvement of the program which now focuses much more on officer interaction and connection with the kids. Milne said, “In today’s world, it is so critical for these kids to relate to their D.A.R.E. officer. It doesn’t matter so much what the officer teaches them. It matters that the kids can relate to them.”
Milne now expresses the D.A.R.E. acronym as Define the problem, Assess the problem, Respond to the problem, and Evaluate. By using this more interactive strategy, the program takes a more proactive and preventative approach. And it is working. In a 2017 Scientific American article Dr. Richard Clayton, who was once an outspoken critic of D.A.R.E, has since implemented many science-based improvements to the program as chair of its scientific advisory council which includes prevention researchers. Clayton said, “They listened to the notion that comes from the literature that you need to be interactive—not didactic lecturing. I think what they've done is pretty amazing.”
Officer Ron Rice is Herriman’s newest graduate of the D.A.R.E program and will be the School Resource Officer for Providence Hall. Although Officer Rice has served as a police officer for over 35 years and has taught officers in many environments, including the police academy, this will be his first time teaching kids. Rice said, “Although I never taught kids before, interacting with them at Bastian Elementary felt natural. We played games and had a good time. D.A.R.E used to be all about drugs but now, using a science-based curriculum, and giving us opportunities to connect and relate to the kids, it is all about empowering them to make good choices.”