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Herkimer Police Officer Shauna Jones, who serves as the Herkimer Central School District’s school resource officer, teaches a D.A.R.E. class to fifth-grade students on Thursday. The program aims to teach students about making good, responsible choices. [STEPHANIE SORRELL-WHITE/TIMES TELEGRAM]

HERKIMER — Students in a fifth-grade class at Herkimer Elementary School were given a scenario Thursday where a girl who smokes was going to a party.

Some of the students offered solutions about what they would do. One said to not go. Another said to go, but if the friend started smoking to say you had to go home. Another said to just walk away.

Herkimer Police Officer Shauna Jones, the school resource officer for the Herkimer Central School District, suggested telling the friend she shouldn’t be smoking because it’s bad for her health.

Jones is currently teaching the school’s D.A.R.E. program. While it still warns kids about staying away from drugs and alcohol, it has a bigger message.

“It’s about making safe and responsible decisions,” she said.

Jones said the students are seven weeks into the program. Some of the topics students will discuss over the next couple of weeks include bullying, helping others, peer pressure and handling stress.

“Unfortunately, the only contact that a child may have with an officer is when mom or dad are pulled over, or there is a difficult situation at home or if the child is a witness to, or victim of, something horrible,” Herkimer Police Chief Michael Jory said in an email Friday. “We want to remove the negative stigma attached to police. We want the child to feel comfortable around us. We want children to know they can talk to us in time of need. Having a positive interaction with an officer in the classroom may persuade that child, or teen, to seek assistance from the police in the future.”

Jory said having a D.A.R.E. officer in as many classrooms as possible can only result in a positive impact on the community. He said students having a positive relationship with a D.A.R.E. officer “may help them overcome any apprehension or anxiety they may have when interacting with the police.”

“Now add the message that D.A.R.E. is trying to spread to our students … it is a ‘win-win’ situation,” he said.

According to the D.A.R.E. website — which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education — the program was founded after there was increased drug abuse in youth in the 1970s and 1980s. The website states that “Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates and the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1983 launched an unprecedented and innovative substance abuse prevention education program.”

Jory said many prevention programs are driven by data and results.

“In my opinion, you cannot quantify the impact that D.A.R.E. has on a student, but is it not our duty to try anything and everything to encourage our children to make good choices? We cannot sit by idly, cross our fingers and hope that children will not experiment with drugs or alcohol, or engage in risky behavior. It is our responsibility to provide them with as much information as possible regarding the consequences to their choices.”

Jory said the Herkimer Police Department has a “wonderful relationship” with the Herkimer Central School District.

The program is currently taught to all fifth-graders at Herkimer Elementary School. Principal Renée Vogt said the school had the D.A.R.E. program previously, but it was stopped due to funding

“I am pleased to see the program brought back to Herkimer Elementary School,” she said in an email Friday. “I believe it is critical to provide support to our young children and model the strategies needed to resist social pressure and say no to drugs, alcohol and bullying.

Vogt said having Jones in the classroom working with the fifth-graders on this curriculum “is key to helping us establish rapport and give the kids the necessary tools to make safe and healthy life long choices.”

“If you speak with the kids they seem to very much enjoy having Officer Jones in the classroom,” said Vogt. “They feel comfortable talking with her and are asking very important and relevant questions.”

From Times Telegram

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