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Spencer bringing back DARE program for fifth-graders

With Spencer Police Department officers saying they’ve been seeing an uptick in youth drug and alcohol use of late, the department and the Spencer School District will resurrect the once popular Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in the fifth grade. Lessons on making wise decisions to help avoid substance abuse problems will begin right after the holiday break and continue for 10 weeks.

Spencer Police Chief Shawn Bauer and officer Eric Carlson attended a Dec. 18 Board of Education meeting to explain their plans for renewal of the DARE class, which has not been taught in the school for more than 10 years. Carlson has received training on the program in Iowa, and will meet with all fifth-graders once a week beginning Jan. 2. The goal, the officers said, is not just to reduce drug, alcohol and tobacco use by teens, but to help them make strong decisions in any number of life scenarios.

Bauer said Spencer officers have been making more contact recently with local youths regarding drug use, such as an example about a month ago of a 16-yearold found with a methamphetamine pipe. Getting an officer into the school regularly will teach students how to say no to drug use, and will bolster a positive relationship between law enforcement and children.

“We are seeing some drug trends with them,” Bauer said. “We need to create a relationship with our youth with our law enforcement officers to deter drug use.”

Former Spencer Police Chief Bill Hoes brought the DARE program to Spencer in the 1990s, and most other area schools had an officer in to teach it, too. In Clark County, the Sheriff’s Department had an officer designated to teach the course in each local school that wanted it. Loyal, Greenwood and Granton all had DARE until it was stopped in the mid-2000s.

Carlson said DARE’s focus is on giving students strategies to resist drug and alcohol usage. One lesson will be on the harmful effects of such substances, but the rest will center on ways students can overcome peer pressure and other factors, “so they can put two and two together themselves,” Carlson said.

“The majority of this is not on the drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The majority of it is on how I can make a good decision,” Carlson said.

There are approximately 50 fifth-graders this year, and they will be split into two groups for the DARE course. Carlson will see one section every Wednesday and the other on Thursdays. After the 10-week course ends, he plans for a graduation exercise to culminate the program.

When Carlson attended his training in Iowa, he had a chance to practice-teach a class, and he said that showed him how the DARE experience can not only give kids tools to make wise choices, but to foster a positive relationship with police. “What I’m hoping to do is get that bond with law enforcement,” Carlson said. Most times, youths see officers when they are responding to trouble, and the DARE experience can create an atmosphere in which students will “not be afraid of us,” Carlson said.

School administrator Mike Endreas said the district has about $2,500 left over in an old DARE program account, and will combine that with federal “safe school” grant money to pay the DARE program costs. He said DARE had a positive impact when it was taught years ago, especially in helping students become familiar with officers.

“That was probably the most important piece — was that relationship,” Endreas said.

Resurrecting the DARE program may also be a lead-in to the eventual addition of a school resource officer in Spencer. Other area districts have allocated funds to have a local officer come to the school regularly for safety reasons, and Bauer said that discussion has started for Spencer. He has met with the police chief in Loyal, he said, and talks are underway for a possible shared resource officer for the two districts “It’s real infant right now. It’s in the talking stages,” Bauer said.

Board President Tom Schafer said the trend is toward having more law enforcement presence in schools.

“I’m sure there’s going to be more discussion in the future on having an officer

here,” he said.

“We are seeing some drug trends with them. We need to create a relationship with our youth with our law enforcement officers to deter drug use.” -- Spencer Police Chief Shawn Bauer