The most enjoyable part of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education fifth-grade program for 11-year-old Taylor Mix was writing an essay on what she learned.
“I’ve learned what you do echoes throughout your whole life,” she said. “If you make bad decisions, it will basically ruin your life.”
This week, Mix had the opportunity to attend the DARE Camp at Camp Child about 20 miles west of Helena. During camp, local students about to enter the sixth grade got the chance to canoe, play Hawaiian horseshoes and other confidence and team-building exercises.
“I think it’s actually a really great experience. You get to have fun and be a kid,” Mix said.
Along with the activities, the campers also learned about dangers of drug use and involvement with violent behavior.
Through the process, camp attendees aren’t the only ones learning lessons.
The DARE program, which is a 17-lesson curriculum used internationally, has been surrounded with controversy over its effectiveness.
“There’s no quantitative way to prove it works. That’s the argument,” said Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton.
Dutton said he is pleased with the current curriculum but wants to ensure that the county’s teachers agree. Some teachers have voiced concern that the health aspects of the program should be taught by educators, not officers, he said.
Schools are currently reviewing curriculum and the DARE component will be assessed in 2011, Dutton said.
“We want a drug program, but is this one meeting our needs?” Dutton asked.
If law enforcement officials and county teachers agree DARE is not meeting the community’s expectations, the issue will need to brought back to the voters, who passed a mill levy in 2000 that funds the program.
Through the renewing levy, each year $200,000 is allotted specifically for DARE and its two full-time officer positions — one from the sheriff’s office and one from the Helena Police Department.
Dutton said that because it is a set program, DARE lessons cannot be altered in any way.
According to the sheriff, the program and camp, which is funded mostly by the DARE trust fund started in 1991, are beneficial to both campers and the officers. It allows the opportunity for officers to become role models, less of an oppressive figure and more of a peace officer, he said.
“All of a sudden, that officer is a person,” he said.
“I think they’re really cool. They’re there to talk to you about everything,” she said.
For the officers, it helps them work with children.
“It takes a different person. We have all great cops. Some are great cops but they don’t make great DARE leaders,” Dutton said.
Shane Hildenstab, a sheriff’s deputy and DARE officer, said the program is vital, especially for kids who may be prone to risky behaviors.
“It’s a building block for them,” he said.
Porter Struble, 11, said he has never been offered drugs, but now he knows how to say “no.”
“I think DARE is a smart thing to do because it prevents kids from being drug addicts,” said Struble, who attended this week’s camp.
Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078 or email@example.com