The Pettis County Sheriff’s Office continues to fight substance abuse — not with weapons, but with education as Wednesday more than 50 Smithton students graduated from the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.
“DARE has several approaches,” said Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond. “Obviously, the first thing is drug abuse resistance education, to try to teach them about drugs and ways they can say no to the peer pressure that will be coming in a few short months or years. But, it is also much broader. It really gives them a decision-making plan for when they’re older. Whether it’s bullying or peer pressure or other things in life.”
The program curriculum contains a police-officer led series of lessons that teach life skills to students facing the pressures of drugs, alcohol, and gangs and bullying. The classes focus on mainly fifth and sixth grade students. DARE instructor and Pettis County Sheriff’s Deputy Stephanie Bahner said the classes focus on that age group because those students are at the threshold of the age when drug use becomes an issue.
“I think it’s because they are getting ready to go into the big peer pressure time of their life,” Bahner said. “Obviously peer pressure can hit at any time, but I think that’s the time when they really have to start making decisions.”
An added benefit, one unforeseen at the time of the program’s inception, is that the program gives students a positive experience with law enforcement officers at an early age.
“It gives a more positive role for us and shows us helping people, instead of in a negative way,” Bahner said. “So many kids are told ‘if you’re not good, I’m going to call the cops’ or whatever the case may be. Or their parents get arrested. This definitely brings us together.”
Parents agree the program works.
“I think it’s a very good thing for the kids,” said parent Amy Frankie. “I’ve got my fifth grader here today and then my sophomore went through it when she was in fifth grade too. It just teaches them a lot about how to make good choices.”
As part of the program each student is required to write an essay on what they learned in the program. This year’s essay winners were Sierra DeHaven, Carter Rumsey and Kierstin Luttrell. Much like a regular graduation, the kids cheered and clapped as each of their classmates received their certificates.
“She (Bahner) made it more fun than I thought it would be,” said fifth-grader Matthew Thompson. “I learned not to hang around people that smoke or drink alcohol and I learned that when I get older not to smoke or drink alcohol.”
The program was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles when the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District got together to find a way to reduce drug use in the community. According to program administrators it has become so successful that it is now being implemented in 75 percent of the nation’s school districts and in more than 43 countries around the world.
Funds for the Pettis County DARE program come from contributions from Sedalia-Pettis County United Way and individual donations. Information for school officials, law enforcement and individuals can be found at dare.org.