Area News | Home | Marketplace | Community

Return to Archived Stories

Paynesville Press - November 19, 2003

D.A.R.E. program marks ten years at PAES

By Bonnie Jo Hanson and Michael Jacobson

Since 1993, when the D.A.R.E. program was introduced to fifth graders at Paynesville Area Elementary School, over 1,200 students have taken the Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

On Thursday, another 75 students will graduate from the program.

The D.A.R.E. program uses a 10-week curriculum to help youth recognize and resist pressures that may influence them to abuse alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. A new curriculum, introduced this year, also includes a focus on bullying, said Tim Kantos, a Stearns County Sheriff's Deputy who has taught the program for all ten years at PAES. The theme of the new curriculum is "Take charge of your life," and it meets the criteria of the National Health Standards, said Kantos, who now teaches all the D.A.R.E. programs in Stearns County.

Kantos's goal for the program is to help students lead "healthier, happier lives." He estimates that D.A.R.E.'s message directly influences about a quarter of the student's decisions about using drugs or tobacco. Many of the students influenced by D.A.R.E. may not have a strong family support system, he added, and these are the kids that can have the most profound response to the class.

DARE kids with cop Kantos began working for the D.A.R.E. program because he saw first-hand what effect drug and alcohol abuse had on people. Not only did he see this effect while working as a patrol officer, but his first girlfriend was killed by a drunk driver.

When he began working for the program, he was alarmed to learn that kids as young as 10 or 12 had already experimented with drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. In fact, one young woman that he worked with was able to kick a heavy smoking habit - at the age of 12. The girl started smoking in fourth grade.

During the last 10 years, Stearns County Sheriff's Deputy Tim Kantos - shown horsing around with a group of students - has taught the D.A.R.E. program to over 1,200 fifth graders at PAES.

PAHS senior Maureen Flanders doesn't have any specific memories of the D.A.R.E. program, but she believes that the course helped steer her in the right direction. It made her notice for the first time that alcohol, tobacco, and drugs could have an adverse effect on her life.

In fact, last year Flanders was asked to be a D.A.R.E. role model for the 2002 D.A.R.E. graduates. She told the fifth graders about a friend that had a bad experience with drugs and drove home the idea that drugs are stupid. "I told them that I don't need drugs to have fun," she said. Unfortunately, the new D.A.R.E. curriculum does not include D.A.R.E. role models, said Kantos, but he hopes to add them to next year's curriculum. Kantos thinks another benefit of the program is that hopefully kids he has taught in class will feel like they can go to him for help if they need it. "It's not just about drugs," he said. "We let kids know that we, as officers, are approachable." For some kids, a D.A.R.E. officer may be the first law enforcement officer they have ever met in a nonthreatening setting, he noted. Still, according to the 2001 Minnesota Student Survey, alcohol use is more prevalent among Paynesville students than among their peers across the state. (Paynesville teens appear to use drugs less frequently than their peers across the state and use tobacco on par with their peers, according to the survey.)

In 2001, 58 percent of PAHS senior boys, 35 percent of ninth grade boys, 30 percent of senior girls, and 22 percent of ninth grade girls drank alcoholic beverages at least 10 times in the past year. All these rates are above state averages, except for the senior girls, which is right on par.

Also, in 2001, 50 percent of PAHS senior boys reported that they binge drank (consumed five or more drinks on 10 or more occasions throughout the year).

Kantos isn't surprised by these statistics. He said there's an opinion in this area that drinking beer is not as bad as illegal drugs or hard liquor, but the end result is the same, he stressed. If it weren't for D.A.R.E., Kantos believes these statistics would be even worse.

While he is confident that the D.A.R.E. program works for many youngsters, Kantos emphasized that teens continue to need help to avoid the lure of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. "There needs to be more follow-up programs in the high schools," said Kantos. "Parents also need to be more aware of what their kids are doing," he added.

Diane Seegars, the chemical abuse counselor at PAHS, agrees that the D.A.R.E. program works and that follow-up programs are needed.

In fact, the 2001 Minnesota Student Survey, indicated that local sixth graders think the top five reasons not to use alcohol or drugs are: no desire (77 percent), friends don't use (67 percent), could affect performance in school (62 percent), alcohol and drugs are dangerous (62 percent), and parental objections (54 percent). Education programs at school were listed by 38 percent as a reason not to use drugs or alcohol.

Seegars was instrumental in starting the S.A.D.D. (Students Against Destructive Decisions) chapter at PAES and noted that many of the members of S.A.D.D. were interested in taking their D.A.R.E. experience a step farther.

PAHS student Courtney Colbert, a founding member of S.A.D.D., wanted to carry the D.A.R.E. message to high school students.

This week, PAHS's S.A.D.D. chapter is organizing a series of events for Minnesota Chemical Health Week (Monday, Nov. 17, to Friday, Nov. 21) to help students understand the risks involved when they make destructive decisions. Each day this week, students at PAHS will observe different themes aimed at drug, alcohol, and tobacco awareness.

Contact the author at   •   Return to News Menu

Home | Marketplace | Community