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For Small, left, this is the first year teaching a D.A.R.E. program, while Robertson, right, has been doing it for eight years now.

CANTON — The D.A.R.E. program has been around for a long time, but for local police departments like Canton’s, the name of the game is evolution.

Currently teaching the program at Meadowbrook and North Canton Elementary Schools is Det. William Small and Officer Jennifer Robertson, who is also a patrol shift supervisor. Chief Shawn Gaddis has long been a supporter of the program.

“We’ve had the D.A.R.E. program as long as we can remember,” he said.

The 10-week program is taught to all fifth graders at the two elementary schools, an age officers believe is when peer pressure begins kicking into high gear. Since Small and Robertson were kids in the program, things have changed.

“It used to be nothing but facts and telling kids why drugs are bad, now it’s more strategies and the program has evolved as the drug problem has evolved,” Small said.

Specifically, the class now focuses much more heavily on decision making and offering strategies for kids to deal with tough situations.

“They have a whole lesson on eye contact and body language,” Small said.

Although this is Small’s first time teaching the classes, Robertson has been doing it for eight years, dating back to when she worked for the Hendersonville Police Department. She noted that although some kids can be more difficult than others to reach, the extra duty is rewarding.

“I say just please be respectful and listen to me,” she said, adding that most kids are responsive to the lessons.

Small said a new part of the lesson plan is a focus on opioids, which often can be found in many a household medicine cabinet.

“We’re trying to be proactive on that issue and not just always reactive,” he said.

Both Small and Robertson said that they are usually impressed by just how much the children absorb from the class, both noting that the quietest kids in the classes often retain the most knowledge.

“They’re very smart,” Small said. “They know a lot more than people give them credit for.”

Gaddis wanted people to know that his department takes the program seriously. It’s about prevention.

“The D.A.R.E. program is just as important as patrol and criminal investigations,” he said.

He also talked about how proud he is of the officers who dedicate several hours every week to preparing and executing lesson plans for multiple classes each of the 10 weeks.

“I want to commend both Jen and Will,” Gaddis said. “Jen has to work as a patrol supervisor, will as an investigator. They took on this added role with the D.A.R.E. program which shows their commitment.”

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