Soldotna Elementary School students participate in a D.A.R.E. lesson on Wednesday, February 28.
(Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

D.A.R.E. program looks to teach kids lifelong decision-making skills

D.A.R.E. — the ubiquitous anti-drug campaign of the 1980s and 1990s — has come a long way since the days of “just say no.”

Launched in 1983 to explicitly tackle illegal drug use with a strict focus on the negative consequences of substance abuse, the D.A.R.E. program now focuses on developing life skills and giving kids the tools to make responsible decisions.

“The whole goal is to educate them to resist using drugs,” Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan said. “But the way that they do that is not through scare tactics, but through life skills.”

Brennan, who teaches D.A.R.E. courses to about 150 fifth graders at Soldotna, Redoubt and Kalifornsky Beach elementary schools, said that although D.A.R.E. still officially stands for “drug abuse resistance education,” the acronym is now used to describe a different set of priorities: “define, assess, respond, evaluate.”

A new approach

No longer are classes built around directives from instructors — instead students are encouraged to work together on exercises that emphasize core concepts. Students answer questions in a “keeping’ it REAL” workbook that covers a number of decision-making tools, including communication styles, identifying risky situations, responding to pressure, bullying, stress and making responsible choices.

Brennan, who has been giving the course for seven years, said when he first began teaching the program, the curriculum included two days on alcohol and tobacco abuse with an optional lesson on bullying.

Now, the substance abuse lesson has been winnowed to one day, and bullying is a core component of the curriculum.

Brennan said the two key messages he hopes kids will take away from the course is an ability to work through decisions they’ve made — so they can better understand the consequences of their actions — and to be comfortable around police.

“I don’t want them to be scared of police,” he said.

Building life skills

At Soldotna Elementary School Wednesday, kids sat in pods during an hour-long course discussing “help networks.”

Brennan prompted students to identify times they needed and asked for help, and who provided the help. Students eagerly piped up to answer Brennan’s questions — sharing times someone offered them a pencil, helped them retrieve lost candy or provided help with a book report.

Kids then broke into teams and competed to identify glossary terms they had learned during the program. The session ended with students watching a video about Alaska teenagers, who described how they use D.A.R.E. skills to make better life choices.

As Brennan wrapped up the last class of the year, he left students with a final thought: “It’s up to you to make the right decision.”

The D.A.R.E. course will be capped off with a graduation ceremony Friday — the highlight of which will be the announcement of a grand-prize essay contest winner, who gets to take home a new mountain bike and “Daren,” a decorated stuffed lion that has been keeping Brennan company in his patrol car throughout this year’s D.A.R.E. course.

The ceremony will be followed by a student “lock-in” — an overnight slumber party that doubles as a fundraiser for the Soldotna High School swim team.

From Peninsula Clarion

D.A.R.E., not scare

D.A.R.E. grads receive goodie bags and congratulations from community leaders. In the 1980s political leaders attempted to address the drug crisis among youth with a simple answer to a complex problem: “Just say No!” Programs like D.A.R.E sprung up across the nation,...

Pot at the Polls: Oregon, Alaska Cast Pivotal Votes on Legal Marijuana

The future of marijuana hangs in the balance as voters go to the polls on Tuesday. Residents of Oregon and Alaska will decide whether to follow Colorado and Washington, which in 2012 approved the world’s only regulated markets in the drug. The vote could double the...

Legalized Marijuana Will Not Stop Drug Cartels

AACOP urges Alaskans to vote no on ballot measure 2. Recent reports from Colorado law enforcement indicate that the legalization of marijuana has not reduced illicit sales on the black market there as proponents had predicted. In particular, black market dealers...

Alaska Mayors Group Opposes Legalizing Marijuana

A group of Alaska mayors has come out in opposition of the ballot measure to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana in Alaska. The Alaska Conference of Mayors announced Thursday that it had voted to oppose the initiative during an Aug. 13 meeting in Nome,...


Purchase D.A.R.E. Merchandise & Workbooks