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Len Crossman, state coordinator for Massachusetts D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), stands in his new office at 251 Exchange St., across the street from the Athol Police Station, seen outside the window.
Athol Daily News/Kathy Chaisson

ATHOL — Len Crossman believes it’s never too early to teach a child to make healthy choices, and it’s part of his job as Massachusetts D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) coordinator to provide the tools to do so.

Crossman, who works part-time for the Northfield Police Department and teaches criminal justice at Franklin Pierce University took over the position in January moving the central office into the North Quabbin Community Coalition building at 251 Exchange St. “We are the direct contact to D.A.R.E. America,” he said.

D.A.R.E. provides curriculum for police officers to become certified to teach in the classroom. Crossman said he hopes to get more towns to jump on board to become involved with schools. “There’s been this big distrust of law enforcement,” he said. “D.A.R.E. can help build trust and legitimize their place in the community.” He said the program is not designed to replace school health programs but to supplement them with police interaction. “We provide drug education and combine that with various life skills.”

The D.A.R.E. program started at the Los Angeles Police Department in 1983. Crossman said the “old” program is no longer used and there was a period where there wasn’t any progress being made. It has since become more effective in that it is science and evidence-based. “The more tools you have to give a kid the better the chance they can resist peer pressure.”

Crossman said he feels D.A.R.E. has made a lot of progress in the last few years and that one of the three all-inclusive curriculum designed for the classroom was approved by the Attorney General in response to the opioid epidemic. “We define why a drug that you put in your body has a negative affect.”

The Massachusetts town of Bellingham is part of a national study on the effects of the D.A.R.E. program. D.A.R.E. is funded through private and corporate donations. Crossman expressed appreciation to Hannaford in Athol for placing a donation box in the store. “Every little bit helps,” he said.

Police, family, schools, churches and the local community can also guide a child in the right direction. “Every town has its own challenges,” Crossman said. “Every community has their own unique problems. The idea behind D.A.R.E. is that it takes an entire community to keep a kid drug-free.”

The curriculum now includes grades K-12 with topics such as vaping, opioid dangers, and mental health. Friends tend to notice things more than anybody else and there is strength in numbers, he said. “The curriculum teaches kids to watch out for each other and to be active bystanders.” They are taught resistance strategies and how to recognize a true friend. “What’s best is that an officer from their town creates that local connection for a kid.”

Today, D.A.R.E. officers facilitate discussions, use workbooks, do role-playing, and encourage interaction and teamwork. “On average, the D.A.R.E. officer speaks eight minutes out of 45,” Crossman said. D.A.R.E. officers can also teach at afterschool programs and summer camps. He would also like to see it tied in with more churches.

Crossman said the core curriculum is for fifth and sixth grades, “an impressionable age” where they haven’t yet been exposed to as much. “That’s the time we feel the kids are going to be facing issues, not while they’re facing these issues.” Information is given to the students to bring home to their parents. Crossman has found parents to be “very responsive” to the program. “We get some very good and positive feedback from parents who want to contribute.”

He feels they’re making progress and sees “some glimpse of hope” on the reduction in drug-related deaths and that the opioid crisis “seems like it’s getting under control.”

Ultimately, “the more information you can continuously give to the children, the more they’ll retain,” Crossman said. “Everybody remembers their D.A.R.E. officer.”

For more information, email len@madare.org, call 978-249-3703 or visit http://madare.org.

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Copyright © 2019 D.A.R.E. America. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2019 D.A.R.E. America. All Rights Reserved.