D.A.R.E. is 10 years old in Vermillion by M. Jill Sundstrom As the 1998-99 school year started, Vermillion�s fifth- graders probably didn�t realize that the D.A.R.E. classes they would be taking this semester began in town the year most of them were born.
Initiated in the Vermillion School District in 1988, the D.A.R.E. program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) helps students recognize and resist the many direct and subtle pressures that may influence them to experiment with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, inhalants and other drugs.
In its 17-week curriculum, D.A.R.E. offers preventive strategies which focus on the development of social competence, communication skills, self-esteem, empathy, decision making, conflict resolution, sense of purpose and independence and positive alternate activities.
Since 1988, 1,800 students in Vermillion have been enrolled in D.A.R.E. classes, taught by Vermillion Police Officers. Officer Chad Gillen is beginning his third year as a D.A.R.E. instructor, while Officer Theron Ahlers completed his certification just this year. He is teaching the first semester classes.
�We average about 100 students per year,� Ahlers said. �Its purpose in going into the fifth grade is to work with students who are at an age when they are still relatively free from the pressures to use drugs.
�During the lessons, we look at the effects and consequences of using drugs, then we teach the students ways to say no ? assert their right to say no,� he continued. �Ideally, when the classes are finished, the students have a ?tool box� to use in dealing with how to stay drug-free and violence-free.�
One of the key elements of D.A.R.E. is enhancing self-esteem and giving kids the ability to deal with stress.
�Kids need to feel good about themselves,� Ahlers said. �And even at this grade level, they are faced with a ton of academic requirements and are involved in many extracurricular activities which can lead to pressure. D.A.R.E. helps them cope.�
Ahlers also encourages parents to get involved with their children who are in the D.A.R.E. program. A new column, featuring D.A.R.E. reports, will begin in this week�s issue of the Plain Talk. On a weekly basis, it will review what the students have learned.
�With this column, I�m hoping parents and kids will talk about the D.A.R.E. lessons and open up communication on a difficult subject,� Ahlers said.
Ahlers is convinced D.A.R.E. is more than just another way to teach kids about drug use and abuse.
�It�s more than a drug education program,� he said. It�s about doing the right thing and being a productive citizen. Over the long haul, D.A.R.E. sets a community standard. The community is coming together with D.A.R.E. and it makes Vermillion better as a whole.
�I think it works,� Ahlers continued. �I don�t know if we�re ever going to stop drug use completely, but D.A.R.E. helps reduce it by teaching kids to make intelligent decisions.�