Sixth-grade students across the district are going to see a new lesson added to their curriculum this year.
Cst. Steve Maki and Cst. Mark Boileau of the Fort Frances OPP will introduce the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, reaching about 450 students.
Every week for 17 weeks, each class will get a lesson on drug resistance and violence avoidance techniques.
Cst. Boileau stressed the program wasn’t just about preventing drug abuse. Instead, it showed students how to make choices in life, especially choosing to stay away from alcohol, marijuana and tobacco--what he called "the gateway to drugs."
Each student participating must sign a "contract" saying they will stay away from drugs, alcohol and tobacco for the duration of the program. Parents or guardians also must sign the form so they’re aware of what is going on in the classroom.
And before students can "graduate" from DARE, they must write an essay about what they’ve learned.
"We encourage anybody who wants to see what’s going on to give us a call," Cst. Maki said.
Both he and Cst. Boileau spent two weeks in Edmonton learning how bring the message to students, and became two of just three officers in Ontario trained for this.
Once the pair have two years’ experience under their belts, they can offer advanced sessions for students in grades eight and 11.
Cst. Maki first heard about the program from Sgt. Darrell Waller, who has been running one for six years in International Falls.
"It is, in my eyes, the best program out there. The biggest thing is the contact with the kids," Sgt. Waller noted, adding he’s now been in class with every student from grade six through 12.
"I know the kids I’m dealing with now," he said. "Now when I walk into the high school, the uniform is no barrier."
One of the key parts of the program was what Sgt. Waller called the "DARE can." Through it, students can pose any question or share any thought without being identified.
If the student signs their name, it means it’s confidential. Sgt. Waller said he waits until later to make contact with that student outside of class.
This was especially useful in identifying situations and breaking the cycle of domestic abuse. "And I’ve had to do that," he added.
But Sgt. Waller admitted there was the misconception that DARE would guarantee students remain drug-free. To be realistic, he said that wasn’t going to happen.
Instead, he explained 15 percent of all students in that grade level--the level where studies show kids start experimenting--already have made up their minds they were going to make the right choices about drugs.
Another 15 percent would experiment regardless of what they were taught.
But Sgt. Waller stressed it was the remaining 70 percent that they try and get their message to.
"Not everybody’s going to turn it down but you have to talk to the kids," he said, adding it also was important for them to know that help is there when they need it.
Meanwhile, the big challenge facing Cst. Boileau and Cst. Maki is to raise $10,000 to cover the program costs ($18 per student), which includes T-shirts and prizes.
"To me, it’s probably one of the hardest parts of the program," Sgt. Waller admitted.
Anyone interested in donating, or who wants further information, can call either Cst. Maki or Cst. Boileau at the Fort Frances OPP detachment (274-3322).