At one time, Howard County police Officer Cpl. Susan Goldman would talk mostly about the dangers of drugs when she spoke in county classrooms as part of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.
But her visit to Bryant Woods Elementary School yesterday dealt with another issue that educators say is of increasing concern to public school students nationwide: violence.
Through role playing and lectures in the 17-week D.A.R.E. curriculum, students now learn how to walk away, "cool off" and adopt other alternatives to violence, Corporal Goldman said.
The key is to help students learn such skills while they are young, said Corporal Goldman, one of four county D.A.R.E. officers who go into the county's 32 elementary schools and teach the fifth-graders about the dangers of drugs and violence.
"We're pretty lucky," she said. "These kids are still pretty naive around here. In elementary school, it's still pushing and shoving and bad-mouthing."
Still, she said, elementary school students in Howard County and elsewhere in the country are under stress from problems at home, peer pressure and the need to excel in school and extracurricular activities. That stress can explode into violence.
A program of the kind being offered through D.A.R.E. "kind of wakes the children up to our laws," she said.
The new focus on violence in the nationwide D.A.R.E. program is a product of national juvenile crime trends, which are reflected in local crime statistics. Last year, for example, juvenile arrests for assaults, robberies and other serious crimes in Howard County rose 22.5 percent to 686 incidents, compared with 560 in 1993.
Last week, a 17-year-old from Columbia was shot and wounded outside his apartment in what police said was a fight over a girl. An 18-year-old Baltimore County man has been arrested and charged in that shooting.
And Raheem Ameen Jones, 16, formerly of Columbia, is charged as an adult with attempted murder in the shooting of a former neighbor, Christopher Graham, 19. Police said Mr. Graham, now paralyzed, was shot in the back last August after he allegedly kicked the youth's dog.
Older youngsters are increasingly getting involved in shootings, knifings, and fistfights, Corporal Goldman said.
At yesterday's class at Bryant Woods, Corporal Goldman worked to draw the distinction between "assertiveness" -- which can help protect a person from violence -- and "aggressiveness," which can prompt it.
"Assertiveness is a way of telling people what your rights are while still respecting them," she wrote on the blackboard as the students copied the definition in their 73-page D.A.R.E. workbook.
To distinguish different personality traits, she pretended to be a police officer with a passive, aggressive and assertive personality, while pulling someone over.
"Can I see your driver's license?" she asked meekly, avoiding eye contact with student Diette Yoshioka, 10. Laughing, the class guessed correctly that the officer was being passive.
Of the three personality types, Corporal Goldman said "aggressive people tend to get into more fights," because they don't respect themselves or others.
"All of us have an imaginary bubble around us. It's a protective space. If I get into your bubble . . . it makes you feel uncomfortable. Would you like it if I talked to you like this in your face?" she said nearly nose-to-nose to one boy.
"No," he answered, backing away in his chair.
"I have to treat you like I want to be treated," Corporal Goldman told the students. "I have a right to say 'no.' If my friend wants to borrow my bicycle and I don't want to, I have a right to say no."
Being assertive could help solve disagreements when someone "butts" ahead in the line, she told the students.