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Perry County School District 32 fifth graders proudly hold their D.A.R.E. certificates and stand with their D.A.R.E. officer, Cpl. Jeri Cain, at the program’s graduation ceremony.

 After more than 35 years of operation, the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program is still alive and well. D.A.R.E. is a nation-wide program that involves police officers coming into schools and teaching students about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and violence. It started small but spread quickly.

“D.A.R.E. was started in 1983 in Los Angeles, California,” said Cpl. Jeri Cain, the Perryville D.A.R.E. officer. “It started as a program in the inner city by officers and teachers because they were having all kinds of gang and drug activity, and police relations weren’t the greatest, so they were trying to come up with something to improve that, so they came up with the D.A.R.E. program. They tested it there for four years, and in 1987, it rolled out nation wide.”

As with any educational program, D.A.R.E. has had to adapt quite bit over the years to remain effective in getting its message across effectively. It still teaches the basics about the dangers of tobacco and alcohol, but more categories have been added while some are being taken away. 

Due to controversies and different laws in different states, Missouri is one of, if not the last state to still include the portion in the curriculum concerning the health risks of marijuana. 

The program has also expanded to include discussions about new products that were not on the market when D.A.R.E. started, such as e-cigarettes.

Although D.A.R.E. has had to change to keep up with the times, its basic purpose remains the same.

“The mission of D.A.R.E. is to reduce the amount of [drug addicts] and empower kids to learn,” Cain said. “We’ve evolved into our D.A.R.E. decision-making model. We teach kids how to think, how to make decisions, and we just reinforce what they’re already learning in other classes, but it’s just another tool in their toolkit that they can use. … The official statement for D.A.R.E. is teaching students good decision-making skills that help them lead safe, healthy lives.”

Another skill that D.A.R.E. is adding a bit more focus on now is bullying. D.A.R.E. officers are encouraging bullying victims and bystanders to speak up rather than letting the bullying continue. They are not teaching the kids to physically stand up to the bully but are instead telling them to go to an adult that they trust to seek help for themselves or someone else. This not only allows children to combat bullying but also helps them in learning who they can trust.

Despite all the changes that Cain has seen come for the D.A.R.E. program over the years, she still feels that the program is effective in what it teaches.

“D.A.R.E. is so much more than what we teach these kids. It is about the relationships that these kids make with their D.A.R.E. officers. … They know that I’m here for them, and I’m going to continue to be there for them, no matter how old they are. … I have been involved with the D.A.R.E. program since the very day I walked into this department, … and I started my 23rd year in October. I’ve substitute taught for D.A.R.E. since 2000, so for 18 years, and got recertified four years ago. This is my fourth year of teaching again, when I rotated back in as the public education officer for the department.”

Students that Cain had in the past that are now in their thirties still speak when they see her and contact her with questions or for advice because they had the opportunity to build that trusting relationship with her through the D.A.R.E. program. Children are sometimes hesitant to talk to or afraid of police officers, but D.A.R.E. shows them a different perspective.

“They learn that their D.A.R.E. officer is a police officer,” Cain said. “I’m a real person. I have a family. I have kids. … They learn that it’s not just a uniform. … The D.A.R.E. program just opens up these kids’ eyes that police officers are real people. … We make a positive influence with them. … A lot of these kids, the only time they see us is when we’re kicking in doors or making traffic stops, and this gives us a positive experience with them.”

Cain has worked with students for many years through D.A.R.E. and hopes to see the program flourish for a long time to come.

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