ME: DARE program has grown throughout the years to be much more than just drug prevention
Officers who teach it in schools also focus on the dangers of social media, peer pressure, bullying, and stress, and how to develop healthy life skills.
News Center Maine
Author: Hannah Yechivi
November 23, 2021
MAINE, Maine — Most people can remember the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program that has been taught in schools for decades. It focuses on teaching kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. However, the focus has shifted throughout the years to fit current trends and help students become better versions of themselves.
Late last week, three Maine police officers from Bucksport, Veazie, and Oxford got their DARE certificates after completing a two-week intensive training.
Bucksport’s recent graduate, Officer Christopher McCrillis, said DARE isn’t just about drugs and alcohol anymore. He said it’s also about teaching kids to make safe and responsible life choices.
“This whole lesson plan is about empowering. Empowering the students, kids that can benefit from being empowered. And the kids that already have those skills? For them, make them better!” McCrillis told NEWS CENTER Maine.
DARE lessons include avoiding drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, but a significant portion of the curriculum also focuses on the dangers of social media, peer pressure, bullying, stress, and developing healthy life skills. DARE-certified officers are also trying to build trust between law enforcement and students.
McCrillis said DARE is the most rigorous program he has been through, but he’s ready to pass onto Maine students the valuable lessons he’s learned. He hopes to start teaching the DARE program to Bucksport students from kindergarten through 12th grade starting in January.
The school program is a police officer-led series of lessons that teaches students a wide variety of topics that can help them be better versions of themselves as they grow up and make important life decisions
“To me, it’s hitting those hard issues that kids are dealing with today,” McCrillis said.
The original DARE program started back in 1983 to curb the use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco among teenagers. The program is now taught in many countries worldwide.
The program was mostly reading and listening to lectures back in the day, but nowadays, it’s more hands-on, according to Maine DARE Program Coordinator Scott Cyrway. Cyrway has been teaching the program to students for decades and has seen positive results.
“It’s ongoing enhancements, so as far as somebody saying, ‘Well DARE doesn’t work,’ they certainly haven’t been looking at it closely because DARE does work. It’s science-based,” Cyrway said.
Many of the lectures nowadays include students practicing tough decision-making through activities with their classmates.
“We have a lot of students who sometimes struggle with different issues and, like I said, to be able to provide another means of learning about making some good life choices, said Bucksport Middle School principal Todd West.
McCrillis, Oxford Police Officer Stephen Cronce, and Veazie Police Officer Julia Richards graduated together from the intensive training course to become DARE certified instructors.
“I am honored to be part of the DARE instructor generation that will challenge students to think critically and independently and empower them to stand up for their personal beliefs,” Richards said. “Contrary to popular belief, DARE is not about scaring students straight. This is 2021, and I will argue with unwavering confidence that DARE has evolved exponentially.”
Richards went on to say that the heart of DARE resides in teaching children to make their own safe and responsible decisions based on their personal values.
DARE has been taught in Veazie schools for nearly 20 years, and now Richards will continue it.
“It was a challenge, but it meant a lot to me to see so many officers attend that are not in an SRO capacity,” Cronce told NEWS CENTER Maine in an email. “They will soon begin building relationships that will last a lifetime.”
“Now that I have completed this course I plan to, not only teach DARE. to my 5th grade classes this year, but also teach the DARE middle school curriculum to my middle school students this year,” he continued. “This would be a first for our community, but I feel that it is needed in today’s world.
Cyrway said you don’t have to be a school resource officer to be DARE certified. He estimates that 120 Maine schools currently have the program, but he said there are just 45 Maine officers certified to teach it, and some are teaching it to multiple schools. He said first-time schools get DARE books for free from DARE America.
If a school resource officer is interested in the program, Cyr said they can get trained in two weeks. Those interested can contact Cyr by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This program can only enhance the school resource mission, and I’m confident because I just went through this training, and I see the effect that this can have,” McCrillis said.