Decisions, drugs and D.A.R.E.

Program aims to teach kids confidence, how to make choices, not just addiction awareness

By BOB WHITE

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 6:09 PM CST

HARDIN COUNTY — Ever since Nancy Reagan became the nation’s First Lady, an anti-drug message has trumpeted through American schools, but the Drug Awareness and Resistance Education program, which started in the early 1980s, offers more to students than a reminder to “Just Say No.”

“They know what drugs can do to them by fifth grade,” Hardin County Sheriff Charlie Williams said. “The biggest battle they have is self-esteem and friendships.”

While D.A.R.E. began with a mission to educate children about the dangers of drug, alcohol and tobacco use, the program has evolved over the years into a well-rounded course focused as much on teaching kids confidence and encouraging discussion as it is on drug dangers.

“So many people think D.A.R.E. is just about saying no to drugs, but it’s truly about decision-making,” said Bryce Shumate, D.A.R.E. instructor and Radcliff Police Department spokesman. “It’s not just saying no to drugs but to all harmful activities.”

D.A.R.E. students proved Tuesday that they are learning a lot about saying no to harmful activity.

“Saying no isn’t always a bad thing,” said Erika Squires, a fifth grader at St. James School in Elizabethtown. “And there is always more than one choice.”

Squires graduated Elizabethtown Police Department’s two-month D.A.R.E. course Tuesday with the rest of her fifth-grade class.

Confidence, choices and the downsides to drug, alcohol and tobacco use are some of the lessons St. James students learned during the class.

Squires, as did some of her classmates, said the D.A.R.E. instructor also taught her and the rest of the class something about police n that cops are people too.

Squires said D.A.R.E. instructor and Elizabethtown Police Department spokesman Virgil Willoughby “was very easy to connect with” and her classmates Zach Patterson and Luke Hagan said they enjoyed the way Willoughby joked around with them.

“He can be funny, too,” Patterson said.

It may have initially been a mere side-effect of D.A.R.E., but many feel the positive police interaction the St. James students described as the most tangible benefit of the D.A.R.E. program n even more so than the anti-drug message the program was founded on.

“Anytime a police officer has a positive interaction with a child, it’s a plus, not just for us, but also the child,” Williams said.

Developing a relationship with police at a younger age and on a positive note, Williams said, sets the stage for crime prevention. The self-esteem the program creates among students, which can help children say no to peer pressures, is the second most beneficial aspect of D.A.R.E..

“It’s not going to be some guy in a red Cadillac from Michigan that these children have to worry about giving them drugs,” Williams said. “It’s their friends.”

Friendship education is what Willoughby described as the most meaningful part of the D.A.R.E. program. Willoughby described the D.A.R.E. program as a light switch.

“What do you do to turn the lights on? You flick the switch,” Willoughby said. “We’re the switch.”

D.A.R.E. first came to Hardin County in 1990. The program currently is taught in all schools in Elizabethtown and Radcliff and most schools in unincorporated areas of the county.

While Vine Grove Police Department did train an officer to instruct the program to the elementary school there, the officer was laid off due to budgetary concerns before the D.A.R.E. program was implemented.

Bob White can be reached at 505-1750,, or at bwhite@thenewsenterprise.com.

This story, written by Bob white, was provided to One Knox courtesy of The News Enterprise. Read more stories from The News Enterprise at www.thenewsenterprise.com.