"Do people make fun of you if you don't do drugs?" asked a sixth-grader at Youth's Benefit Elementary School recently.
"There are some who think you're a geek, but there are always people like that. It doesn't make them right," responded Kate Germano, a senior at Aberdeen High School.
Germano and another high school student, Kevin Simons, 15, were fulfilling their role in one of the county's anti-drug problems by answering young students' questions.
They find that younger students want information on a wide range of drug-abuse issues.
One young student wanted to know: "Do people classify people by how they look?"
"Some do," said Germano. "But people who drink and smoke or take drugs aren't necessarily wearing leather and looking mean. You may notbe able to look at people and tell if they use drugs. They can be people who seem nice. But it's not healthy, and it's illegal."
This unscripted question-and-answer session was part of Project DARE (DrugAbuse Resistance Education), a program for sixth-graders that focuses on "refusal skills."
The program also provides information aboutdrugs students are most likely to try first -- alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
Sheriff's Department Deputy 1st Class Steve Rathgerber led the 15-day program at Youth's Benefit, talking about drugs and the law, effects of drugs on the body and why students might use drugs.
He is one of six police officers from various county law enforcement agencies who have been operating the DARE programs at schools throughout the school year. High school volunteers, like Germano and Simons, assist when appropriate, Rathgerber says.
DARE is one piece of a big puzzle aimed at stemming student drug abuse, said Laurie Dawson, the county's teacher-in-charge of Drug Abuse Prevention Education.
The county received a grant this year through the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act of 1986. A $190,000 grant has been approved again for 1991-1992. The grant paid for a full-time coordinator of the program, as well as classroom learning kits and other educational materials.
"Our theme this year is 'Together we can make a difference,' " said Dawson. "The idea is that teachers and parents andstudents have to work together to combat drugs. One piece of the puzzle alone won't do it."
On the classroom level, an anti-drug curriculum, titled "Here's Looking At You -- 2000," has been started in county public schools. Its lessons are meant to extend throughout a pupil's school career.
The curriculum program was chosen by a Substance Abuse Update Team which reviewed a wide range of anti-drug curriculums developed by form specializing in such educational programs. Theteam concluded that the one they chose was the "Cadillac" among available programs.
Dawson said "Here's Looking At You" was started infourth-grade classes at public schools two years ago and added in second- and eighth-grade classes this year. Next school year, the curriculum will be added to fifth grade.
"It's expensive. For example, one kit for a fourth-grade class costs $1,000. But it's worth it to help children," said Dawson.
The program focuses on drawing parents into the fight against drug abuse by involving them in curriculum homework assignments.
For example, a homework assignment for fourth-graders requires asking parents, "If I take drugs or smoke, what's the rule, and if I break it, what are the consequences?"
"In many families, rules aren't spelled out. This (assignment) forces communication before problems ever arise," Dawson said.
In second grade, children learn how to be assertive and ask for help in confusing situations, such as being offered drugs.
In fourth grade, the program focuses on making decisions and how to say no and still keep your friends.
Sixth-graders have classroom visits from police officers in Project DARE, and eighth-graders review how to resist peer pressure and analyze ways in which drug and alcohol use are made attractive in the media.
Lessons and issues from the program resurface in ninth-gradehealth class, and are driven home with a visit from Kids On the
Block, a puppet show which high school students practice during the fall months and perform during the spring.
High school seniors also discuss drug abuse in a number of classes, including a "Contemporary Issues" class.
"Right now, students are very, very committed to stopping drug use. It's almost trendy not to get involved in drugs," said Dawson.
"I hope we can maintain this student enthusiasm."
The anti-drug class curriculum is just one of numerous efforts in the schools to get students, teachers and parents involved with the campaign to stop drug abuse.
Other programs, all overseen by The Advisory Council, include:
* Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). Ongoing anti-drug programs include those put on by high school SADD groups, or Students Against Drunk Driving. A new emphasis in this area resulted from a student summit held this year, in which representatives from all public and private middle and high schools in the county met to talk about what they could do to fight drugs.
Middle school studentsgot so excited that many are starting SADD groups this year for the first time, Dawson says.
* Substance Abuse Update Team slide presentation. The program is considered especially helpful for parents. The team -- consisting of school teachers and administrators -- prepared the presentation by gathering state statistics on drug abuse and visiting local rehabilitation centers and hospitals to track the use of drugs in Harford County. The information updates a film made three years ago.
Dawson has shown the 19-minute presentation to 23 groups so far this year, including administrators, teachers, PTAs and groups from private schools.
"It helps explain what we're doing to theaudience," she says. "It talks about the drug problem, what the public schools are doing to combat drugs, what the community is doing. Ithelps parents know where they can fit in to help."
After showing the film, Dawson hands out an overview pamphlet for parents on how tocommunicate with a child and recognize signs of drug abuse.
* Addictions Council. An added resource in the school's fight against drugs includes a new partnership with the county health department, whichhelps teachers refer students to the right person in the health department.
* Facilitators. These are teachers in each elementary school who serve as the contact person for anti-drug programs. The teachers went to Hood College last summer for training in the drug-free curriculum. Each helps to organize programs within the school.
* Doctor-lawyer partnership. A new program that will begin in eighth-grade science classes in February. About 60 area doctors and lawyers have volunteered to visit eighth-grade classes from now until June, answering student questions about drug-related issues.