New program touches on pre-teen hot topics

Cyber bullying, tobacco use and communication skills are what
grades 5 and 6 students want to talk about

You’re in a car and someone is driving 140 kilometres an hour, how do you handle this situation?

This is an example of a scenario pre-teens are asked to access when visited by Const. Sherri Karn of the Trail and Greater District Detachment.

She is the voice behind the local D.A.R.E. program that has transformed from the outdated Drug Abuse Resistance Education presentation into the “improved” Define, Access, Respond and Evaluate message.

She’s gearing up to talk to grades 5 and 6 students in Greater Trail, a task she’s done in the Trail area for three years but altogether since 2005.

“I think that this new program really does set them up for having a little bit more confidence of how to handle themselves in risky situations,” she explained. “I would love to think that the program gives them this great stepping stone of groundbreaking information but I really think that if nothing else, for them to have that first positive interaction with police makes it worthwhile.”

Despite being the nation’s most popular substance-abuse prevention program, D.A.R.E.’s website explains that the old motto shared from 1983 to 2009 was proven time and again by scientists that it didn’t work. It’s noted that the old approach didn’t make one less likely to become a drug addict or even to refuse that first beer.

The new focus centres around a “keepin’ it real” substance-abuse curriculum that replaces drug-fact laden lectures with interactive lessons that help kids make smart decisions.

“I actually use this in my police life,” said Karn.

“It’s a very similar model that we use when making risky decisions. Like how to weigh the pros and cons when you’re in a situation: What do you do? What’s the best decision? And then you reflect on it.”

Last year, she spoke to nearly 200 students for an hour weekly during the 10-week program. She still touched on the popular topics of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, but her focus broadened with some content on violence, vandalism and bullying.

“Cyber bullying is huge,” she added. “We probably have reports of it in each and every school in the district from high school down to elementary school. It’s probably the No. 1 form of bullying right now.”

The Internet is instant, accessible and imbedded. Youth need to know that what they do online is never really lost, that it can still get them in trouble and really hurt someone, too.

Cyber bullying was so popular during regular D.A.R.E. presentations that Karn partnered with a local mental health and addictions counsellor in the spring to help address the topic in front of parents in Warfield and Rossland.

“For the person actually doing the bullying, they’re behind a screen,” said Karn. “They feel protected, and it gives them almost a greater sense of who they are at that point because there is seemingly no immediate repercussions behind it, no consequence behind it.

“Even if someone writes ‘LOL’ (to a post on social media), the victim of the cyber bullying sees this and instantly figures they’re right on board,” she adds.

Enquiring minds also wanted to know more about cigarettes and why mom and dad would ingest something willingly with 200 poisons. And what’s the deal with e-cigarettes? Did you know there is a vampire blood flavour?

But students also craved tips on communication: how to carry yourself, speak clearly and with intent and confidence.

Karn expects the same for this year but says she’s always surprised in some way. She felt her message was heard and used when one student came up and explained that she interrupted a bully and questioned later whether she should have told the teacher first.

Karn believes in this program. It’s hard to say whether her efforts have any impact on reducing crime in the big picture, but she would say that’s more than likely the case.

“We all have people that help guide us to make good decisions to get to where we’re at today,” she said. “And the more people that can reinforce the skills that are coming from home life—whether it’s the teacher or the police, whether it’s your next door neighbour or grocery store clerk—if they’re reinforcing those positive behaviours, we’re setting our children up for success.”

D.A.R.E. is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives. For more information visit, www.dare.org

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