Salem-Keizer Schools Drop DARE - 10/15/98
Anti-Drug Program Cut into Core Curriculum
by Kristin Green

Statesman Journal, PO Box 13009, Salem, Oregon 97309-1015
E-mail: Fax: 503-399-6706

     Following a national trend , the Salem-Keizer School District has abandoned the well-known Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in half of it's schools.
     The other half of the schools are evaluating the effective of the police taught program, once touted as a national model for keeping kids drug-free.
     Many teachers in those elementary schools have said they don't have time in their busy classroom schedules for the program; they want DARE to be offered after school.
     Defenders of DARE say it builds self-esteem while teaching while teaching kids to say no to drugs and alcohol. But a growing body of studies suggests that the benefits don't last.
     "Most kids probably aren't going to listen," said Serena Dahl, 10, a fifth grader at Liberty Elementary School.
     State schools chief Norma Paulus believes DARE is ineffective. She thinks schools should re-evaluate the role of the program in the school day.
     "It's intrusive on instructional time and the studies don't show it works," she said. "I think the better alternative ... is to have a strong health program."
     According to a 1998 study by Salem-Keizer Together, a community drug- prevention network, the number of sixth graders who use drugs at a moderate to high rate rose to an all time high of 6.1 percent in 1998.
     Thirteen percent of eight-graders and 19.2 percent of 11th-graders reported drug use at that level.
     DARE is taught one hour a week over sixteen weeks to fifth graders. A police officer encourages kids to say no to drugs by telling them the effects of drugs on their bodies, the potential consequences of using drugs and specific ways to say no. The program also works on building self-esteem and teaching children to be assertive.
     Salem-Keizer students already learn the skills taught in DARE from teachers and counselors, said Wink Miller, the school district's director of elementary education.
     "We'll continue to focus on kids living healthy lifestyles. We think that will help us do the same things DARE will do for us," Miller said.
     But John Stackhouse, a Salem police officer who teaches DARE in Salem elementary schools, said teachers can't present lessons the same way he does.
     "We walk in and have immediate credibility based on our background," said Stackhouse, who was a narcotics officer in Salem for three years. "Every working cop is going to have a different perspective on the effects of drugs."
     Sarah Killian, a fifth-grader, said police officers tell stories of real-life experiences that make her want to stay away from drugs. She doubts her regular teacher could do the same thing.
     "It's nice to have the police officer come because he's more experienced", she said.
     DARE also allows police officers to develop rapport with with students and their parents, said Marion County Sheriff Raul Ramirez, a staunch DARE supporter.
     Marion County deputies who taught DARE in Salem-Keizer schools were reassigned a year ago. The deputies, paid with school district funds, became full-time school resource officers. But deputies still teach DARE in 12 elementary schools outside the Salem-Keizer School District.
     "It's allowed us to bond with the community. We see that as a manner of reinforcing values," he said. "I wish we could be in every school."
     Keizer elementary school teachers asked a year ago to eliminate the DARE program, in part because officers weren't available to teach at the same time every week. The officers' unpredictable schedules sometimes meant that DARE interrupted class time devoted to core classes.
     "It's more important for kids to learn to read and write," Paulus said.
     But officers can teach the basics while doing the DARE lessons, supporters say. Without the DARE program, children don't connect with police in a meaningful way.
     "We're disappointed," said Keizer Police Lt. Kent Barker. "It's unfortunate because we're going to lose the contact with grade school kids."
     Whiteacre Middle School in Keizer planned to teach DARE when it was cut from the elementary schools, but administrators decided their wasn't time.
     Courtney Brooks, a fifth-grader at Liberty, said middle school is the time when she thinks she'll feel pressure to use drugs or drink alcohol.
     "When you're in middle school, it's like, I need to make some friends," she said.
     Amber Hames, 10, said, "I don't think one year is enough."
     The commitment of good intentioned police officers makes it difficult for school administrators to reject DARE.
     "It's almost sacred. Sometimes it's hard to let go," said Larry Austin, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Education.
     But Salem-Keizer school officials are feeling pressure from the state to drop DARE, and they're concerned about the state's new instructional standards and the schools' low test scores. As a result. they're rethinking the way they use teaching time.
     "It's not a movement away because we value the service of the program, but it's our need to capture more time to intensify instruction," said Marlin Herb, executive assistant to the superintendent of Salem-Keizer schools.
     Carla Moyer, a prevention specialist for the school district, said DARE's dose of refusal skills to fifth-graders isn't enough to keep children drug-free throughout middle and high school.
     "Is it more effective than what a good teacher would do? I don't think so," Moyer said.

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