Police in Maryland's capital bring DARE back to schools
By PHIL DAVIS
Mar. 03, 2018
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Inside Annapolis Middle School, the reintroduced D.A.R.E. program — much criticized by some researchers who saw it as ineffective when taught in public schools from the 1980s to the early 2000s — is in its third day.
But during a 30-minute class, Anne Arundel police officer Cpl. Mark Bethea spends no time decrying the dangers of drugs, which studies found was ineffective about the previous version of the program.
Instead, Bethea presents potentially stressful or scary situations, many of which involve peer pressure to do something dangerous. But not all involve drugs or alcohol.
For school and county officials, they hope the change in focus from the doom and gloom "Just Say No" days will spur better results when it comes to preventing drug use.
Originally, the program was part of the curriculum in county schools in the 1990s but was stopped in the 2002-2003 school year. That was the same time the former federal General Accountability Office found the program "had no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use."
But while fatal youth overdoses have not seen any significant increase in years, a record-setting fatal overdose rate among adults old enough to have experienced the program has spurred county officials to try again.
Developed by researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Arizona State University in 2007, the "keepin' it REAL" curriculum changes many of the fundamental aspects of the program.
Even its name is used as an acronym for a decision-making model: "Define. Assess. Respond. Evaluate."
Once students read conflict stories — hypothetical situations written by peers describing everything from a friend yelling at them for being bad at sports to being pressured to try alcohol — Bethea then makes students run it through another acronym.
"Refuse. Explain. Avoid. Leave." A reference to the "REAL" part of "keeping it REAL."
According to Sgt. Nicole Vaden, an Annapolis police officer who also teaches classes at the school, "it's more decision-making and giving kids resistance strategies."
"It adds a bit of reality to it," she said.
Inside Bethea's class, the officer still faces the same barriers to entry that most face when trying to explain something to sixth graders. Some students are apathetic and avoid participation while others raise their hands seemingly at every opportunity.
But the class itself tries to lend to a more open discussion. Bethea explores themes like "Passiveness, Aggressiveness and Assertiveness" in relation to situations and asks the students to apply those terms to the stories discussed earlier.
Principal Sean McElhaney said he went through the previous D.A.R.E. program while he was in school and didn't see it as an effective tactic to prevent drug use.
He said it was the change from a format even D.A.R.E. itself recognizes as a program that "was more non-interactive than interactive" that led him to be in support of the program.
"That's what we noticed, too. It's not just drilling (the program) into them," he said.
There's some disagreement over whether the new version will be much better than the old one, with a peer-reviewed study published last year said the curriculum has "been tested on a narrow audience" and "have yet to be tested for efficacy."
It's still clear this is a law enforcement-led program, as Bethea talks about how an action can "escalate" or "de-escalate" a situation.
But the room for discussion does lead students to give answers to what seem like authentic situations.
In discussing a situation where an underage kid is pressured to try beer, one girl discussed how they can "Explain" why they are not interested in drinking the beer while another says they can "Leave" by calling up their mother.
For a county that has seen nearly double the number of fatal overdoses through Feb. 20 compared to the same period last year, county officials hope this program can help stem the tide in the long term.
Information from: The Capital, http://www.capitalgazette.com/