Schools seeking to replace DARE; New drug program would better fit local needs, officials say


Howard County school and police officials are considering replacing a nationally recognized drug-prevention curriculum in elementary schools with a locally designed program, saying the new format could better serve the fast-growing student population.

Two Columbia elementary schools -- Dasher Green and Jeffers Hill -- have just completed a 10-week pilot program that could become the basis for replacing DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) with SAFE (Stopping Abuse for Everyone).

DARE officials say altering drug-prevention programs could shortchange pupils. But counties around the nation have switched, believing DARE is too restrictive and demands more resources than they can supply.

"The reason we have considered moving away from DARE is to design a program specifically for Howard County students," said Dulcy Sullivan, the county schools' DARE coordinator. "DARE has a set curriculum. You're not allowed to change it."

Any change in the program requires school board approval. Board members could receive the results of the pilot program by the end of this school year.

"It is all on the drawing board," said Sgt. David Francis, the Police Department's youth services section representative. "It's a partnership between the school and police."

County fifth-grade pupils participate in 17 weekly classes, usually taught by Howard County police officers. DARE designs the curriculum and supplies the materials, and topics range from changing beliefs about drugs to building self-esteem.

Fewer classes

The proposed program would include 10 weekly classes; seven taught by police officers and three by a teacher and a police officer, said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. Course specifics would be based in part on what each school decides, Caplan said.

"DARE was taking a huge chunk of time," she said. "The thinking was that [the classes] would be integrated" and some subjects condensed into one lesson.

Francis said he and school officials began working on the proposal a year ago, partly because the Police Department cannot send officers to all the classes. Some of the classes are taught jointly by teachers and officers.

"Resources are not increasing as fast as the number of schools," Caplan said. The county has 37 elementary schools, and one-third have opened in the past 10 years.

DARE is a copyrighted program. Participants must use the guidelines, which require that officers teach all classes.

Counties in Washington and Colorado have replaced DARE with their own programs for similar reasons. In 1997, Frederick County became the first county in Maryland to replace DARE with a local program.

In Boulder, Colo., last year, officials replaced DARE with their "Cops in the Class" program. Officers teach fewer classes and teachers decide what topics the officers will introduce in their classroom.

"We just felt we should design something for Boulder students and teachers," said Officer Larry Wieda, a crime stopper coordinator for the Boulder Police Department. "We felt it was time to move on."

Flexibility appreciated

Dasher Green participants said they liked the flexibility of the pilot, adding they are planning ways to tailor the program to their school.

"I liked that it was teacher-led. They are trained in the educational process," said Cherryl White, a Dasher Green Elementary School counselor. "We are going to focus on respective, responsible and productive behavior."

DARE representatives say their 16-year-old program is the most popular in the world and that counties are not thinking of the long-term aspects of maintaining drug-abuse prevention programs. Howard County has used DARE since 1985.

"We have seen this in the past. You get a department or a school that says they have a drug-prevention program and they don't," said DARE spokesman Ralph Lochridge. "They need to have an infrastructure that constantly updates material."

Last year, 26 million students nationwide, at 80 percent of school districts, participated in DARE, Lochridge said. That included 74,000 from Maryland and 2,826 from the county.

He said an important part of the program is having officers teach the class because they bring a unique perspective to the classroom.

"Some departments are under real budget constraints and we understand that," Lochridge said. "But having credible DARE officers in the classroom is important. They know how drugs can destroy a family. They see it all the time."

Pub Date: 2/07/99

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