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SL Editorial: New ideas in anti-drug programs hold promise

Date: 05/09/00 22:15

In many school districts, children in elementary school go through a program called DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Some recent studies, however, have raised questions about DARE's ability to cause children to do the right thing when faced with a choice that could damage their future.

At least two districts in Johnson County -- Blue Valley and Olathe -- have decided that DARE should be discontinued. Olathe is poised to adopt Project ALERT, while Blue Valley already has opted for something called the Life Skills program. Blue Valley's decision was made in part because of changes in federal funding requirements. Shawnee Mission is continuing with DARE, which is funded by individual cities.

"We...looked at what makes a program effective," Millie Sampson, Blue Valley's coordinating teacher for health and physical education, told The Star. "We learned that students need something interactive and not just a lecture."

Life Skills differs from DARE in a couple of key respects.

One, it's taught by regular classroom teachers, which is important because teachers and students have already formed a relationship. Second, it covers more than one grade.

Life Skills calls for eight hours of classroom instruction each year in grades three, four and five. It deals with such areas as advertising resistance, communications skills, assertiveness and how to handle the stress that accompanies a choice that, in some circumstances, may be seen as unpopular or uncool.

DARE, by contrast, calls for local police officers to visit schools and inform students on the negative effects of illegal drugs and alcohol.

Blue Valley Deputy Superintendent Steve McIlvain says DARE is more effective in creating a relationship between students and the police than it is in resisting drugs.

Still, that relationship has value, so Blue Valley officials are meeting with police officials in Leawood and Overland Park to devise programs that will continue to bring officers into the classroom.

Because many factors are involved, it's tough to know with certainty why one program works better than another. Even so, Life Skills seems to offer a message that is repeated over a period of three years rather than for a brief interlude in a single grade.

Editorials are written by members of the Editorial Board of The Star. 

The Kansas City Star