Fifth grade students in the Etowah County School System had a day away from the classroom as the culmination of the first stage of the DARE program.
About 125 fifth-grade students from Etowah County schools attended Camp DARE at the Church of the Highlands campus on April 26. It consisted of indoor and outdoor games, lunches and discussions about what the County School Resource Officers taught students throughout the 10-week course.
The Drug Awareness Resistance Education program was launched in 1983 — a federally funded program born out of first lady Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign against drug addiction.
“It’s very different from ‘just saying no’ now,” said Etowah County Sheriff’s Office SRO program supervisor Lt. Justin Plunkett. mentioned.
The program has evolved over the years, Plunkett said, and continues to do so; he will be visiting Mississippi in the coming months for program updates.
DARE has been a part of area schools for years, but over the past decade some schools and their law enforcement partners have incorporated other such programs into their substance abuse programs. , decision-making and character education.
Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton reinstated DARE, working with the school system to have SRO bring his lessons back to the classroom.
Students are introduced to DARE in fifth grade and the program continues with seventh graders.
The inaugural DARE camp was held for students last year; the correct answer led Horton to expand the program this year.
The sheriff welcomed the students and gave them an idea of what the day had in store for them: a rock face challenge, a visually impaired lesson, an armored vehicle ride, mock crime scenes, a crime scene investigation a traffic homicide, drone and Throwbot demonstrations, an Internet Crimes Against Children safety class, and an Alabama Department of Conservation digital safety event.
Each activity was designed to further educate students about the dangers of drugs and the need to make safe and responsible decisions, Horton said.
“It’s important to use every resource possible to equip students with good decision-making skills so they can be as successful as possible in life,” he said.
Plunkett said issues such as vaping, opioid addiction, bullying and suicide awareness are all addressed in the current DARE program.
The fact that the program is taught by the SROs who are in the schools helps build bridges between the community, students and law enforcement, he said.
DARE lessons are about providing children with a storyline and life choices to make, and following up with discussions about those choices.
Plunkett said SROs like to pair students up to talk about possible choices — the kind of choices they might sometimes face alone in front of a keyboard.
Students have the ability to ask questions, even using a DARE box for privacy. In a local municipality, Plunkett said, a student provided information through the DARE box about a suspect wanted by police, which led to an arrest.
Plunkett said instances of abuse were also discovered through the DARE box.
These are not topics that the 1983 version of DARE was designed to address.
“We want to have the right tools to help students,” Plunkett said, in their decision-making and dealing with peer pressure.
“We want to help students examine the choices they make,” he said, through the lens of DARE’s evolving lessons.
Contact Gadsden Times reporter Donna Thornton at 256-393-3284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.