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Learning to make smart decisions

Lu Snyder

FRISCO – For Summit County fifth-graders, there’s more than math, science and English to study at school – they’re also learning how to avoid substance abuse and violence.

The drug and violence prevention lessons are a part of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program – a national and international program started in 1990 to help eradicate drug abuse and violence throughout the world. Summit County law enforcement agencies have participated in the program locally since the early 1990s.

On Tuesday, local law enforcement officers kicked off the annual program by visiting fifth-graders at each of the county’s elementary schools, and seventh-graders at Summit Middle School.

Fifth-graders are just beginning the 10-week program (reduced from 18 weeks in previous years), and Tuesday’s visit from DARE officials was designed to get them excited about the program and provide them with positive role models.

Students lined up to sign their names on a banner that pledged they would stay drug, alcohol and violence free. The banner will be displayed at community and law enforcement buildings around the county.

“The most important choice I made (as a child) was to keep a clean mind,” Ron Tranni, with the National Guard’s drug demand reduction program, told students Tuesday. “There are a lot of ways to have a good time without alcohol, tobacco or (drugs).”

In Summit County, local law enforcement officers who are certified DARE instructors visit classrooms for about 45 minutes weekly to help students build their self-esteem and teach them about substance abuse, strategies to avoid violence and how to “say no.”

Kids with lower self-esteem tend to turn to drugs and other negative behavior in their search for acceptance, said Glenn Johnson of the Frisco Police Department. By helping them build their self-esteem, the DARE program helps students learn how to choose friends and say no to drugs and violence.

“DARE training is unique,” said Rebecca Johnson of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. “It goes beyond traditional drug abuse and violence prevention programs – it gives children the skills needed to recognize and resist the subtle and overt pressures that cause them to experiment with drugs or become involved in gangs or violent activities. DARE teaches our kids the tools to resist peer pressure as it ultimately helps increase their self-esteem and self-worth.”

“I think it’s been very positive,” said Daira Hanschmidt, a fifth-grade teacher at Frisco Elementary.

Not only do students seem to profit from the program, she said, but they also benefit from the interaction with the police. The program enables kids to see officers in a different light – in a helping role rather than simply enforcement, Rebecca Johnson said.

DARE opponents have criticized the program for reasons including teaching children too much about drugs and encouraging them to tell on their friends and family. But Glenn Johnson said that isn’t the case.

“What we concentrate on is teaching them how to “say no,'” he said.

Others want proof that the drug-prevention program is effective, said Ray Gilmore, who works with Tranni in the National Guard’s drug demand reduction program, which supports DARE.

“I’d like to think we are (making a difference),” he said. “I was never asked for my autograph in my life before I did the DARE program. Kids remember: “Somebody cares.'”

Research indicates the program is working, Glenn Johnson said.

One of the unique advantages of the program in a small community like Frisco or other local towns is that the children get to know local law enforcement officers, which helps them think about what’s right and wrong when making choices, he said.

Some seventh-graders said Tuesday they still remember what they learned during the fifth-grade program and believe the program gave them information they can use to make educated choices as they grow older.

“I learned what drugs and alcohol can do to your body – the effects, stuff like that,” said Chris Campbell of Breckenridge, adding that he believes DARE is a worthwhile program.

His friend, Jacob Margolis of Farmer’s Korner, agreed.

“I had already made up my mind not to do that stuff, but it gave me reasons why not to do it,” Margolis said.

Chynna Wallace of Wildernest said she has friends that are “hooked” on tobacco, alcohol or drugs.

“They can’t stop, and they put that in front of everything else,” she said, adding that she hasn’t experimented with substances – though she’s been offered – because she knows the harmful effects.

“Drugs are bad for you,” said her friend, Elizabeth Ray of Dillon, who then broke out into a spontaneous verse to illustrate what she learned from DARE while she was in school in Texas.

“Drugs are cheats and lies, they are a big disgrace,” she rapped.

Campbell and Margolis said they’ve also learned about substance abuse through their parents and health classes – but not to the same extent as with DARE.

“The facts really hit you in the face,” Campbell said.

“Let’s keep them from getting started to begin with,” Gilmore said. “It’s a lot easier to never start than to try to stop.”

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or lsnyder@summitdaily.com.


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