St. Mary's Sends DARE To Summer Camp
Schoolchildren Introduced to Drug Program
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Yes, the popular drug education program DARE was one of the major issues in the 2006 campaign for St. Mary's County sheriff. And yes, Sheriff Timothy Cameron's promise to restore the program, even though some studies have found it to be ineffective, might have helped him get elected.
But politics didn't seem to matter to the nearly 60 Camp DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) kids running around the field Thursday outside the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center in Leonardtown. They said they learned a lot about the reasons not to use drugs during the week-long drug education camp. And they got to play some pretty cool games.
"Today we're doing tug-of-war," said 11-year-old Ayanna Weems, who will enter sixth grade at Esperanza Middle School. "We've been learning in lessons why cigarettes and why alcohol is bad."
The free camp, which ran from Monday through Friday, was the county's first effort in recent memory to introduce the DARE curriculum to elementary school children, Cameron said. With the blessing of school officials, Cameron reinstated DARE in the middle schools during the past year. It had been eliminated by Sheriff David Zylak in 2004.
"It's going well. We're getting really good feedback," Cameron said. "It's a very comprehensive lesson plan, and the kids get so much more than just 'drugs are bad.' "
Cameron said he plans to introduce DARE at the high school level when the first middle school class in St. Mary's to complete DARE reaches the ninth grade. The Sheriff's Office supplies the instructor and materials.
He said the summer camp will serve in place of an elementary school DARE program unless funds become available to offer it to the lower grades. The camp, which cost $3,000, was funded entirely by donations, he said.
On Thursday afternoon, the campers, who recently finished fourth or fifth grade, followed a lesson about making the right decisions with a giant tug-of-war. If their DARE journals were any indication, the students seemed to be absorbing the anti-drug message.
"Tobacco has 200 known rat poisons. It's important I learned this because it'll keep me drug-free and away from alcohol and weed," wrote Tyler Cryer, 10, who will enter the fifth grade in the fall at Father Andrew White, S.J. School in Leonardtown.
"DARE rocks!" wrote Sydney Armitage, 9, who also will be a fifth-grader at the school. "If you like having fun while learning about fun things, this is the place for you."
Several studies have questioned the effectiveness of DARE, concluding that those who graduate from the program are no less likely to use drugs than those who do not.
Cameron said that he was aware of those studies but that his personal experience was that children learn a lot from the program. He said the school DARE program also had other benefits, such as using sheriff's deputies inside the schools as instructors.
"There's some things that, quite frankly, I don't think you can put a quantitative factor on," he said. "Safety and security of our children in the schools are a priority. This puts police officers in the schools as part of the instructional staff."
Deputy First Class Angela Muller, one of the DARE instructors at last week's camp, spoke with more certainty: "If you put a dry sponge in a bucket of water, does it pick up something?" she asked. "I don't ever teach anything that I don't believe in."
Even the tug-of-war at the end of the day turned into a lesson about making decisions, as retired sergeant Mickey Bailey explained that the winning teams usually picked the strongest, or "right," people. In life, Bailey said, it is important to choose friends in a similar fashion.
"If it was something about friends, what would you do?" Bailey asked the group of youngsters, who were dressed in yellow, light green and blue DARE T-shirts. "You'd pick the right people. This just shows if you pick the right people, you can win."