December 15, 2017
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Program Seeks to Educate Students About Good Choices

Posted on October 30, 2017 by in Curriculum, Hometown, Missouri, News

Deputy Gary Carver teaches the D.A.R.E. program to fifth and seventh grade students in the Bismarck, Central, North County and West County school districts. Carver says the program is focusing on educating students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, as well as heroin and methamphetamine.

Deputy Gary Carver teaches the D.A.R.E. program to fifth and seventh grade students in the Bismarck, Central, North County and West County school districts. Carver says the program is focusing on educating students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, as well as heroin and methamphetamine.

“Education beats incarceration every single time.”

Those of the words of Deputy Gary Carver of the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department.

Carver is the D.A.R.E. educator for Bismarck, Central, North County and West County school districts – a position he’s held for 21 years.

According to dare.org, the D.A.R.E. program was founded in 1983 in Los Angeles and is now being implemented in 75 percent of the nation’s school districts and in more than 52 countries around the world.

D.A.R.E., according to the website, is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons teaching children how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug-free and violence-free lives.

It is designed for students in grades five, seven and nine. Carver works with up to 1,400 fifth grade and seventh grade students on the importance of good choices.

“I only teach fifth and seventh,” he said. “Four school districts, eight different buildings, two different grade levels and somewhere between 1,250 and 1,400 students … honestly, in fifth and seventh grade they are formulating who they are going to be and make decisions about what kind of person they are going to be.

“You put that idea in their head that they need to be a critical thinker – you need to think for yourself and how to deal with peer pressure.”

The program is currently in its third “generation,” Carver said, with changes implemented to reflect the change in generational challenges.

The first generation of the program, Carver explained, was very comprehensive with the strategy to focus on the dangerous health consequences related to the use of drugs.

Carver said he was involved in the planning of the second generation of the program – one of 41 D.A.R.E. officers from around the country selected – and admits it was not the best.

Carver said there was one aspect of the second generation of the program he found beneficial in the five years that particular version was in place. The program allowed for the surveying of participating students two times a year from seventh grade until their senior year in high school.

“They compiled all that data and I got a comparison of my students and how that compared with all the schools that participated across the country,” he said.

According to Carver, the data showed his students were significantly less likely to use a strong drug like heroin, methamphetamine, inhalants or any of that type of substance.

“We were slightly above (other schools) on alcohol and about normal for cigarettes and tobacco usage,” he said. “That gave me an idea … of kicking my program in a little bit more about underage drinking and some of that stuff.

“Now, we have D.A.R.E. (generation) three,” he said. “We’re back to good again.”

This program focuses more on making good decisions and helping guide students to critically evaluate a situation or decision, then learn strategies on making good choices.

And, Carver said, it focuses on the dangers of heroin, methamphetamine, and the dangers of prescription drug abuse – with individual lessons focusing on each of these.

“We have those lessons in place today,” he said.

Decision making is a big focus of this generation of the D.A.R.E. program – something which Carver is especially pleased.

“In fifth grade we talk about a decision-making model (using the D.A.R.E. acronym) that is defining the problem, assessing choices, responding with your best choice and then evaluating – was it your best choice or not,” he said.

The program for middle school students focuses on guiding students about “keepin’ it REAL” – with the words “Refuse,” “Explain,” “Avoid,” and “Leave”.

“Saying ‘no’ is critical,” he said. “I have kids tell me they said ‘no’ and the pressure stopped immediately. I had kids tell me they didn’t say ‘no’ assertive enough and then the pressure stays on them.”

He tells students to use their parents as an excuse for the “refuse” example – saying those individuals won’t go knocking on a parents’ door to say “can your daughter come use heroin with us?”

Avoid means staying away from those conditions altogether, with leave meaning to take themselves out of a situation.

Carver said the D.A.R.E. program continues to be reworked as society is changing.

“I’m finishing up my 21st year teaching D.A.R.E. classes,” he said. “Things have changed tremendously in that 21 years I’ve been involved in the school. The students have changed. Society has changed. Pressures have changed.”

Among that is the push to legalize drugs – in particular, marijuana. Carver said proponents of legalization state it is not a “gateway” to drug use.

“In my experience, it is,” he states.

In addition, he said, there are other factors contributing to an increase in drug use – one that is found across the board.

“… it’s not only (talking to students) within the classroom … but, it’s talking to former students who are in the county jail or going to prison and trying to work through and deal with some problem.”

“I’ll ask them how they got started and universally there are two things we see in law enforcement that is a problem. The schools deal with (it) as a problem. Juvenile, children’s services and courts deal with (it) as a problem … one of those things is, quite frankly, poor parenting or a complete lack of it.”

Carver said it is a problem some want to stereotype and be prejudiced against one social or economic group of society.

“That’s wrong … it’s wrong,” he said. “I work with people from the lowest economic situation to some very affluent people who have these problems in their home. Parenting is a big issue.”

He said the other factor is who the student spends their time with and the friends they make.

“They say ‘I was hanging out with the wrong person,’” Carver said. “It’s about making good choices about who you hang out with.”

Educating the adults on a number of issues

Carver said he’s already been in discussions with some of the school districts about hosting a parent education night in March to focus on the use of smartphone applications used by child predators along with a representative from the drug task force speaking on language used in today’s drug culture.

“If a parent overhears a kid talking about ‘hot rod’, as an example … back in my day, a hot rod was a fast car,” Carver said. “Today, that’s a method to use heroin. They overhear about a kid ‘hot rodding’ … it may not be that they were just driving a little fast. It may mean something else.”

Carver said the event will also highlight the importance of internet know-how for adults.

“When I talk to parents, young kids are more technologically advanced than the parents are,” he said. “And let’s face it, today we have a lot of grandparents who are the primary caregivers and raise the children … they don’t always know what’s going on with that smartphone.

Carver said he teaches internet safety to the students – but this program would be for the parents and caregivers only.

“I’ve been assembling a team of speakers,” he said. “We have someone who’s going to teach internet safety and how these pedophiles approach, how they make contact with kids on the internet, and how they groom them.”

The program will also teach about apps on smartphones with “hidden” uses, not visible by just seeing the app icon, and how to find information on the phones.

Carver said he’s waiting for the DEA to formulate an educational program geared toward high school students.

“Two years ago they told us that DEA had been involved in this intensive gathering of all these mental health professionals and they were going to put this program together. I was excited about that for the chance to go back to the high school and work with high school kids more.

“But, it hasn’t happened yet. And that’s disappointing.”

Carver said the surgeon general has identified drug addiction as the largest problem for the United States.

“The surgeon general also named two or three programs that were key preventative programs and D.A.R.E. was one of those,” he said.

According to dare.org, the United States Surgeon General’s landmark 2016 report on alcohol, drugs and health entitled “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health” concluded interventions for adolescents aged 10 to 18 were shown to affect either the initiation or escalation of substance use. The website states D.A.R.E.’s “keepin’ it REAL” curriculum was “among a number of select programs the Surgeon General identified as building social, emotional, cognitive, and substance refusal skills that provide children accurate information on rates and amounts of peer substance use.”

The program is brought to the area through the St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department and various organizations raising money for the program.

“It’s because our sheriff (Dan Bullock) oversees the county jail and understands and recognizes the value of young people,” he said. “I’ve said this for 21 years. We can build prisons. We can build bigger jails – but that doesn’t solve the problem.

“He recognizes the value of our young people. He sees those who are (incarcerated) and understands we need to be proactive.”

One of the primary funding sources for D.A.R.E. is contributions made by the Park Hills Lions Club. Carver said they hold a golf tournament every summer with area businessmen, teachers, and administrators pitching in for the day.

The club’s contributions raise about 70 percent of the funds needed to manage the program throughout the year. The club has sponsored a fundraiser for the program for 23 years.

“They’ve been a huge asset to me and I’m grateful to have that support. (The money raised goes to) the graduation supplies, all the various things,” he said. “My first pair of drunk goggles was bought through that money. The ‘Dimes for D.A.R.E.’ at West County Middle School raised money for a pair as well.”

Carver noted North County Intermediate School also donates to the program. Every penny raised goes right back to the program.

“Education beats incarceration every single time. If we can prevent somebody from going down that road, that’s tons better than putting them in jail. I know the sheriff recognizes that and provides (D.A.R.E.) for the school districts.”

Carver said he tries to make a personal connection with each child which, after his years in this role, is heading into the tens of thousands.

He said a former administrator once told him to not forget the 80 percent in the middle.

“Being able to get into the classroom, you establish a rapport with those kids,” he said. “They’ll seek you out and talk to you.”

From Daily Journal Online