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BRIDGEWATER – Children are not the only ones who learn important lessons in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program.

“You will change their life,” said Frank Pegueros, president of D.A.R.E. America, who led a week-long training last month of 22 police officers from throughout the state at the Somerville Elks. “They will change your life.”

The D.A.R.E. program, started in the 1980s to bring an anti-drug message into schools, was a victim of tight budgets when the recession squeezed budgets a decade ago.

But with the country in the throes of an opioid epidemic, D.A.R.E. is making a comeback as more and more school districts and municipalities are realizing the value of having police officers come into the classroom to nurture a lifelong positive relationship with law enforcement.

“I applaud the Somerset County school districts who welcome D.A.R.E. officers into their schools,” said Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson. “The involvement of school districts is a key component in law enforcement’s efforts to build positive community-police relations, fight drug abuse and teach our children to make safe and healthy choices. It is a valuable commitment to the future of our children and communities.”

Educators are also happy to see the officers in the schools.

“D.A.R.E. is back because it works,” Robert Reavey, principal at Van Derveer School in Somerville. “I believe in this program because I’ve seen how it works with my own eyes.”

For Branchburg Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Gensel, the D.A.R.E. program is more than just bringing an anti-drug message to pupils.

“D.A.R.E. is about building relationships with students,” she said. “They look up you as role models.”

When D.A.R.E. officers come into a class, Gensel said, they become “heroes for a day.”

The lessons of D.A.R.E. officers help students “navigate their world,” she said, adding that maybe the lessons of D.A.R.E. “will be a determiner of their success.”

“We hope they will make the right choices,” Reavey said, adding that younger children, after absorbing the D.A.R.E. lessons, are more likely to tell older kids “what to do.”

Reavey said he has overheard kids talking about “my officer” and asking themselves the question, “what would my officer do?”

“The kids need that relationship,” he said. “Don’t give up on these kids because they need it.”

And eventually, Reavey said, the kids, because they’ve developed a trusting relationship with the officers will become “the eyes and ears on the street” for the police.

The D.A.R.E. graduates are eager to get into the classroom.

“We’re excited to revitalize the program,” said Manville Officer David Shefrin. “They’re teaching me.”

Clapp is pleased that parents attend D.A.R.E. graduations and support the program. “That’s why we do this,” he said.

Other Somerset County officers to graduate from the program were Michael DeCandia from Branchburg, Christopher Auriano from Green Brook and Timothy Richard from Bernardsville.

From myCentralJersey.com

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