D.A.R.E. marks 25 years in Madison County

Fran Odyniec For The Madison Press

December 21, 2013

When he was superintendent of London City Schools, Dr. Jacob Froning approached then Madison County Sheriff Steve Saltsman with an idea that had the potential to reach virtually every school-age student in the county’s four school districts.

Saltsman’s reaction was, “Yeah. We’re going to get behind it.”

That was 25 years ago when Froning and Saltsman met to begin laying the groundwork for D.A.R.E., which was to become one of the most enduring community outreach programs in the history of Madison County.

D.A.R.E., the national Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, was established in 1983 by Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Madison County’s D.A.R.E. program led by then Sgt. Teena Gallagher of the county’s sheriff’s office, rolled out in 1998.

“I realized that this was a great way to touch lives and make a difference in kids’ lives,” Dr. Lt. Gallagher, now retired, recalls. “I was fired up.”

Since its introduction 25 years ago to Madison County, approximately 47,000 students have gone through the program. That total nearly doubles when D.A.R.E. high school and elementary school programs are included.

Getting started

While the school districts were anxious to get D.A.R.E. into their curriculums, Saltsman realized that the individual schools would need to set aside one period a week for 17 weeks for the program. The core program was targeted to fifth-graders with a one month program for the kindegarten to fourth grade students.

There also was the question of funding.

Initially, Gallagher, the certified D.A.R.E. officer, was to teach three days a week in addition to her patrol duties. But once the program got underway, Saltsman recognized both its effectiveness and its potential.

“It went like wildfire,” Saltsman said of the program’s acceptance by the schools and the Madison County community.

It soon became apparent that a five-day D.A.R.E. week was needed for Gallagher, which would require additional funding. Gallagher said that she suspected from the start that a five-day arrangement would be better as she was teaching as many as 14 classes a week.

While the Ohio Attorney General’s Office picked up 50 percent of Gallagher’s part-time three-day D.A.R.E. salary, somehow the difference had to be made up.

Saltsman turned to the Hon. David Picken, a longtime youth advocate who was county prosecutor at the time, for help. Saltsman recalls that the prosecutor and his office didn’t need too much convincing about the need for a five-day program.

“Picken picked up the salary for the other two days,” Saltsman said.

As time went on, Madison County Juvenile Court Judge Glenn Hamilton helped obtain grant funding for D.A.R.E. and with contributions from the community, a second part-time officer was added to the program.

Today, the attorney general’s office continues to fund 50 percent of the program while the Madison County commissioners, through a budget line item in the county’s general fund, cover the difference.

The early years

After completing the required two-week D.A.R.E. teaching certification course offered at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London, Sgt. Teena Gallagher was ready.

“I was blessed to be in this groundbreaking effort,” Gallagher said.

Following its national curriculum, the goal of Madison County’s D.A.R.E. program then as it is today is to give students factual information about alcohol, tobacco and drugs but customized to their levels of understanding and comprehension.

Saltsman saw two major positives about the program.

“First it is a well-structured program that is presented to the students in modules,” he said. “The big plus is that it broke the ice between police officers and kids.”

However, a big part of the program’s effectiveness rests on the shoulders of the D.A.R.E. officer.

“It’s tough to find someone truly qualified and dedicated to teach D.A.R.E.,” Saltsman continued, referring to Gallagher and deputies Chris Carter, Jack Dill and Roberta Braithwaite. Braithwaite took over Gallagher’s position as D.A.R.E. coordinator when she retired two years ago.

Saltsman commented that during her 23 years of teaching D.A.R.E. “kids could relate to Teena very well.”

“There’s more to D.A.R.E. than just sitting in a classroom and leaving,” Gallagher said, firmly believing that D.A.R.E. can make a difference. “You have to be involved in these kids’ lives.”

She has passed that operational philosophy on to those deputies who have been and are part of the D.A.R.E. program.

“You cannot just be a friend to these kids,” she continued. “It’s a relationship based on trust and loyalty. You have to earn their trust and respect.”

According to Gallagher, during the first 15 years of D.A.R.E. in Madison County, the major issues addressed were tobacco and alcohol with mounting concern about marijuana.

“They were national trends,” offered Dr. Froning, who is now principal of St. Patrick School in London. “We’re close enough to Columbus that we’re not immune. We wanted to go on the offensive [with D.A.R.E.] and go proactive against what might grow into a problem.”

Today’s focus

Twenty-five years ago, smart phones, iPads and tablet computers were unheard of. Cell phone technology was beginning to take its hold on society.

Today, high technology and media as well as the relative easy access to illegal and prescription drugs continue to impact society and youth in particular. These advances and dangers can lead to life changing events for students.

“No matter where you are, you see it in the least-likely places,” said now Sgt. Chris Carter referring to the challenges confronting today’s youth. Carter, a certified D.A.R.E. instructor, is the community services director for the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. “That’s why we’ve been updating the program with changes that address bullying, peer pressure, Internet access, Facebook and Twitter, as well as the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse.”

“Communication is key,” says Braithwaite, D.A.R.E. program coordinator and certified instructor. “It’s not easy just to say ‘No.’”

“They are realizing that they are entering their pre-adult stage in life,” Braithwaite says of the middle-schoolers in her classes, “But the reality is that they cannot handle adult situations. We want them to know how to identify and get out of those situations.”

Today’s D.A.R.E. 12-week course consists of 21 topics including: a decision-making model practice; safe and responsible choices; resistance strategies; communicating effectively; and needing help. There is also a role play exercise that places students in situations they are likely to face in real-life such as bullying or being encouraged by friends or classmates to use drugs as a form of recreation “that won’t hurt you.” Peer pressure is addressed in scenarios such as being pressured by more popular kids to do things that, if they don’t, “will make us look bad” or will let their friends down.

Students learn the negative effects of ill-advised actions in a safe and controlled environment with Braithwaite leading the exercise.

“They learn to stick up for themselves and others,” she said.

However, the dangers of and potential addiction to tobacco, alcohol, and substance abuse are still important components of the program.

“We’re teaching more about prescription drugs and heroin than we did five years ago,” Braithwaite said of the revisions to the D.A.R.E. curriculum which also includes modules on bullying.

Regarding communication, she says that D.A.R.E. shows kids how and why it is to their well-being to talk about things that may be troubling them to people they can trust such as parents, family members, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, school administrators, pastors and police officers.

At the conclusion of the course, students are asked to make the “D.A.R.E. Commitment” to avoid using tobacco, drugs and violent behavior in their lives.

According to Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin, D.A.R.E. is more than a deterrent to drug abuse.

“It goes hand-in-hand with building character and teaching responsibility and respect,” Sabin said.

He applauded the fact that changes have been made to the program to address issues such as bullying, improper use of and the danger associated with cell phones, and instruction in how to recognize inappropriate adult behavior.

But, Braithwaite advises that trusted people must realize that “when kids want to talk, you have to take it seriously.”

“I always encouraged kids to take D.A.R.E. home and bring what they learned into family conversations,” Teena Gallagher said of the need for communication.

Still relevant?

Over the years, some critics of D.A.R.E. such as S.A.V.E.D. Ministries, U.S. Surgeon General’s Office and the National Institute of Justice have claimed that the program has lost its effectiveness and that it should be disbanded.

Some folks in Madison County disagree.

“I think it is still very definitely relevant,” said Dr. Froning. “It teaches kids how to say ‘No,’ how to deal with peer pressure, bullying and how to learn decision-making skills.”

Steve Saltsman admits that “you can’t make it a perfect world, but, yes, D.A.R.E. is relevant. As long as there is school time available, we’re going to do D.A.R.E. It may not be successful in a major city, but the schools here make the time available year after year. That says a lot about the program.”

According to Sheriff Sabin, it’s difficult to judge the effectiveness of D.A.R.E.

“The success stories that we have received over the years from students who have been through the program,” Sabin said, “Whether through calls, e-mails, letters, or visits tell us that they have been able to face up to and avoid challenges to their well-being by utilizing the lessons they learned in D.A.R.E. Those reactions are extremely satisfying, and in a strong way, are testimony to the program’s effectiveness.”

He said that education, knowledge and awareness are the key elements that youth need “to be aware of the potentially harmful issues in today’s society, especially with the drug epidemic we’re seeing.”

However, he pointed out that D.A.R.E. is not a panacea in and of itself.

“We still need to remember that education and support starts at home,” Sabin said. “D.A.R.E. supplements and reinforces family interaction and other available programs.”

“There will always be a need [for D.A.R.E.],” adds Deputy Braithwaite. “Just talk to a kid.”