Being a D.A.R.E. officer was one of the career goals I set for myself while still in the academy. As a rookie, a good friend of mine was teaching D.A.R.E. and I saw firsthand the impact he made on his students. Finally, after 23 years I was blessed when I was assigned as School Resource Officer. The school I was assigned to had no D.A.R.E. program and I was doubly blessed when I was able to attend D.A.R.E. Officer Training and start a program in the school.

As SRO, I took note of kids who were regulars in the office for discipline issues. One of those students was Brian (name changed). Brian was one of those “tough guy” 5th graders who constantly disrupted his teachers’ classes and picked on other kids on the playground. When we started the D.A.R.E. curriculum, Brian was his usual disruptive self. My school does D.A.R.E. slightly different than most in that the principal assigned me my own classroom and the teachers bring their students to me. If I had to call Brian down one time during Lesson One I had to call him down a dozen. In the middle of Lesson Two, I saw the lightbulb come on. While I was getting the class to line up to go back to their regular classroom, I noticed Brian had gotten a sheet of notebook paper and was desperately writing down the Alcohol and Tobacco from his D.A.R.E. Planner. I patiently waited for him to finish and when he had he told me he wanted to take the facts home to his father. The spark had been lit.

Throughout the remainder of the Core Curriculum, I still had to call Brian’s name occasionally for disruptiveness and I often wondered if that spark I saw in Lesson 2 was just that, a spark. I asked myself if he had heard a single word I had said in the entire program.

To ensure complete fairness, I have one of the assistant principals judge the D.A.R.E. Essays and choose the winner. I have them put the winners’ names in a sealed envelope which I open and read during the graduation ceremony. I don’t find out who the winner is until the students do. To my complete surprise, the D.A.R.E. Essay Contest winner for his entire class was Brian! The tough guy I saw in Lesson 1 teared up as I gave him his gold medal for the accomplishment.

At the end of the school year, Brian’s homeroom teacher asked me, “What did you say to Brian?” She then told me she had not had a discipline issue with him for several weeks and credited his time in the D.A.R.E. class for the change she saw in him.

Today, I still see Brian in the halls and during lunch. Gone is the “tough guy” persona, replaced with a smiling kid. Brian himself credits the D.A.R.E. program for making a difference in his life. I had the opportunity to speak with him while he was waiting in line for the cafeteria. He asked me if he could come back to D.A.R.E. class. When I told him he couldn’t come back to 5th grade he told me his story. A story I never knew while he was my student.

Brian told me his father is a chain smoking alcoholic. He said he is the youngest child and both of his older siblings have followed their father’s example. Brian said by using the D.A.R.E. Decision Making Model, he was able to think about choices and their consequences.

I am extremely proud of all of my students. I know we are not supposed to have “favorites”, however, Brian will always have a special place in my heart. The D.A.R.E. program didn’t only change Brian’s life, it changed mine as well.

– Mark Ingram, Grady County Sheriff’s Office, Chickasha, Oklahoma