When Cpl. Kofee Anderson was in school, a teacher told him he would not amount to anything.
And that was the only fuel he needed to prove her wrong.
“For some reason, I thought, ‘I’ll show her. I’m going to be just like her,’” he remembers.
Anderson stood before a fifth-grade class at Hooper Academy recently not as a teacher, but as a D.A.R.E. officer. The former teacher — Anderson did spend time as a teaching assistant in a second-grade classroom at Pintlala Elementary School — talks to the children about bad breath and yellow teeth.
He speaks about about drugs, alcohol and about choices and consequences. It is a passion Anderson has pursued for about 16 years as the D.A.R.E. officer with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
And it is a career choice that recently honored him with the 2017 National D.A.R.E. Officer of the Year distinction.
“I was very humbled and very shocked to hear about it,” said Anderson, who also won the state D.A.R.E. Officer of the Year award in 2015. “I know Sheriff (D.T.) Cunningham expects a lot out of his deputies … and we are here for the community, and that’s what he preaches all the time.
“I was proud to receive it. I think it gives our kids a good feeling of pride to know that someone they get to deal with every day actually won an award on a national level. I’m still in shock.”
Letting the students talk
Anderson is assigned to the court security division, legal services, and also teaches the D.A.R.E. (Define, Assess, Respond, Evaluate) and GREAT (Gang Resistance Education And Training) programs.
D.A.R.E. previously stood for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and the new program, Anderson said, is used as a way to help students break down thoughts.
“D.A.R.E. used to be centered around lecturing all the time,” he said. “Now they have different lessons we talk about, and we throw scenarios and words out there and let the kids talk about it.
“If we talk so much, how do we know what is on the kids minds if we don’t give them the opportunity to say anything? When you let them start speaking about things, you don’t tell them they are 100 percent wrong. You just get their thought process and guide it where you want it to go.”
It is a system that works in Ashley Cornwall’s fifth-grade class at Hooper Academy.
“The kids love him,” she said. “In general, it helps them say ‘no’ to things they know they shouldn’t be doing. Because it’s hard with kids, with peer pressure, and ‘Oh, if I don’t say yes, then they’re going to think I’m not cool.’
“It helps them learn different ways to kind of give them an out. He makes it fun. He’s upbeat.”
Anderson is at Hooper Academy every Monday morning. He teaches the D.A.R.E. program to the fifth-grade class, and the GREAT (Gang Resistance Education And Training) program to the sixth-grade class.
“The kids look up to him,” said sixth-grade teacher Linda Richardson. “When he’s here, they high-five him, and he also gets onto them like they’re his children when he needs to. They are very respectful to him.”
When Cunningham talks about community policing, it is Anderson he talks about.
“He knows and understands what needs to be done,” said Cunningham, who Anderson considers his mentor. “With D.A.R.E., you have to have a person that is compassionate, that is able to grab the attention of the young people and hold it.
“He has that talent and that charismatic attitude that allows him to do it. That’s what a lot of law enforcement don’t have. He’s a person they can talk to, lean on if a person has a problem. In the classroom, they respect him for that.”
An opportunity taken
Anderson received his degree in education from Alabama State University. While working in the Pintlala second-grade classroom, a D.A.R.E. officer came in and the program grabbed his attention.
“The impact (the officer) had on those kids in the classroom, I thought was pretty cool, not thinking then that I’d end up in law enforcement,” he said.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Anderson became a police officer in 1997 with the Alabama State University Police Department, and then transferred to the sheriff’s office in 2000. And when the opportunity opened with D.A.R.E. in 2001, he jumped on it.
“Kids just want you to talk to them,” he said. “To approach them in a positive way. I know law enforcement gets a negative rap sometimes, but of course we still have a job to do.
“I think it’s all in the approach. I personally feel that kids will tell you anything you want to know, but you have to be patient. They want to sit there and see if you’re sincere. Here at the sheriff’s office, we’ve built that repertoire with our kids in rural Montgomery County to where they feel comfortable coming to us.”
Reaching into the community
In Anderson’s job, he talks to children whose parents face divorce, children who want to run away from home and children involved in custody cases.
He talks to them at school, and with parental permission, at their home. If children call him late at night, he asks them to hold on until the next day, to give him an opportunity to learn more of what is happening.
“I don’t care if it’s 3 a.m.,” he said. “If a child needs me, I want to be there for them. My wife allows that to happen.”
And that is what Cunningham likes about Anderson.
“You look at the things that we’re dealing with and you look at that curriculum and what D.A.R.E. does,” Cunningham said. “It deals with conflict resolutions. It teaches our kids the basics of being able to say no. It means a lot when you can go to a school that’s being taught D.A.R.E., and you can talk about consequences.
“Go to a school that doesn’t have a D.A.R.E. program, and ask ‘what is a peer,’ and you get definitions all across the spectrum.”
Cunningham said Anderson won the national award for his classroom ethics, and for the way he presents material.
“They’re carrying it on to high school and hopefully these kids don’t make the wrong decision,” he said. “That they think about something before you carry it out. That’s what D.A.R.E. is teaching our kids. Kofee is recognized throughout the entire United States.
“I think everybody in Montgomery should be applauding him. We’re leading in this one area.”