An estimated 25 million students across the country are involved in the program, which began in 1987. Nicknamed DARE _ the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program _ brings trained law enforcement officers into the classrooms to teach kids about the dangers of drug use.
"Our DARE officers not only work in the DARE program itself," explained Portage County Sheriff Duane Kaley. "When they're not in it, they work on problems with juveniles. Their availability in the schools gives them an opportunity to root a lot of youth problems out before they become headaches."
In Ohio, there are about 650 trained DARE officers working in nearly every county. In Portage schools, fifth-graders in every public school and several private schools go through the DARE program, earning honors at end-of-the-year DARE graduations.
And an increasing number of kindergarten through fourth-graders and middle school students are coming in contact with DARE officers through expanded programming.
Critics of the program contend DARE doesn't make much difference in children's lives _ that youngsters will dabble in alcohol, tobacco and elicit drug use regardless of what they're taught in the classroom.
Schools in Seattle and Spokane, Wash. recently have scrapped the program, and others, including schools in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro, N.C. area and in Missoula, Mont., are considering halting their use of DARE in the near future, according to published reports.
DARE officer Deputy Jack Herman of the sheriff's office said it's not unusual to see schools exchange a good program after giving it a good-faith try for something cheaper and newer.
"If you look over the years, there is always an influx of highs when the funding is strong and programs are started up," Herman said, explaining how the DARE program saw a boon of new schools get involved in the program through the late 80s and early 90s. The sheriff's office has staffed the DARE program since 1994.
Last year, it received $18,631 in state funding to pay for the program, which pays for less than half. The other half of the tab is paid by the county. Other police departments throughout the county also have received state funding to defray the cost of the education initiative.
"After a number of years, the funding sometimes dries up," Herman said. "It is a beneficial and effective program. It just comes down to some departments in some areas who decide to put in something else. But DARE is still an incredibly effective tool."
Locally, the program continues to grow. The sheriff's office recently added a third DARE officer, Det. Sue Hillegas, to the roster, joining Deputy Scott Witkosky and Herman in the classroom.
The sheriff's office program services students in Field, James A. Garfield, Southeast, Rootstown, Waterloo and Windham school districts, plus students at the Atwater Baptist Church, St. Joseph's School in Mantua, St. Joseph's School in Randolph and a special program at the Happy Day School for mentally retarded and developmentally disabled students.
In Aurora, Kent, Mogadore, Ravenna and Streetsboro, officers from local police departments are trained as DARE officers and complete DARE instruction in the classrooms.
"Often times, law enforcement's contact with young people is when they're stopped for a traffic violation," Kaley said. "We feel it's very important to get into the school system and make contact with children."
Next spring, the sheriff's DARE officers will attend training to help implement the program in middle schools, an effort several DARE programs across the county already have made.
"I see nothing but positive results coming out of it," Kaley added. "As a country, I can assure you we have not stamped out drugs. It's a constant process of enforcement and education."
Statistics compiled at Ohio State University concerning the effectiveness of the DARE program in Ohio show that 11th-grade students with DARE exposure were more likely to be in a low-risk group when it comes to using alcohol and other drugs.
Students who had not attended DARE classes were found to be more likely involved in alcohol and other drugs, the survey showed.
Statistics also show students in Ohio who have had contact with DARE are
more likely to stop their friends from drinking or using drugs, say "no"
when asked to do drugs or drink alcohol, have talked about the dangers
of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, inhalants and other drugs and less
likely to have friends that encourage them to get drunk or high.