Remember D.A.R.E.? South Burlington police talk about program updates

Nicole Higgins DeSmet, Burlington Free Press Published 8:25 a.m. ET Jan. 3, 2019 | Updated 12:27 p.m. ET Jan. 3, 2019

Remember D.A.R.E., also known as Drug Abuse Resistance Education? It was the drug use prevention program launched in 1983, which has since been rebranded.

Ideas behind drug abuse and prevention education have changed since the 1990s when DARE and other programs hammered home the message “say no to drugs” and education efforts focused on horror stories about addiction and death to frighten kids away from drug use.

In the late 90s, federal agencies called into question the effectiveness of DARE, and the program lost funding before making a comeback in 2009 with the elementary school curriculum keepin’ it REAL.

South Burlington Police Department’s D.A.R.E. program:

Cpl. Kevin Grealis of the South Burlington Youth Services unit of the South Burlington police, answered questions about what his DARE unit teaches fifth-grade students. The program continues in the seventh grade.

Burlington Free Press: What is DARE like now?

Grealis: It isn’t heavy on drug talk in the fifth grade. We define what a drug is, and we have a lesson on alcohol and tobacco. But most of the program is about decision making. The theme of drug use is looped into the lessons.

The officers meet with fifth grade classes at each of the three city elementary schools once a week for 10 weeks.

Rick Marcotte Central School DARE graduation shared by the South Burlington police Department D.A.R.E program.

Rick Marcotte Central School DARE graduation shared by the South Burlington police Department D.A.R.E program. (Photo: Courtesy)

BFP: What are some of the topics for the fifth grade?

Grealis: We give lessons on:

  • Risk and consequence.
  • Peer pressure. 
  • Resistance strategies or how to get out of peer pressure-type situations.
  • Communication.
  • Bullying and cyberbullying.
  • Getting help.

One of my favorite lesson is on stress. We define what stress is. We talk about how it makes us feel in our bodies. How it makes us act and what we do. 

Then we figure out strategies to get rid of stress and identify positive activities kids might like to do. 

BFP: What is the core idea in your teaching?

Grealis: It’s all about personal responsibility and problem solving, making safe, responsible decisions at home, school or in the community.

At the end of every lesson, situations are presented to the students and we use our decision-making model to figure out how best to resolve it.

BFP: What is something that comes of working closely with students?

Grealis: One of the biggest positives is we get to know the kids at a young age. They get to know police officers as people. 

So, if they have other life issues they need to report or if they screwed up, or whatever, they are more comfortable coming to talk to us.

South Burlington’s student survey on drug use

Every year, students in middle and high schools across Vermont take a self-reported anonymous survey regarding their behaviors, including the use of tobacco, drugs and alcohol. 

Students at South Burlington’s Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in the 2017 survey when compared to their peers in Vermont were:

  • 4 percent less likely to have ever used marijuana.
  • 1 percent more likely to have used inhalants.
  • Were equal in their use of pain medication without a prescription.
  • 1 percent less likely to have used a stimulant without a prescription.
  • 3 percent less likely to have used tobacco products.
  • 4 percent less likely to have used alcohol.

Questions about methamphetamine and heroin use were only asked of high school students. City kids were 2 percent less likely to have used heroin and 1 percent less likely to have used meth than their peers. 

More: Vermont’s top federal prosecutor: Methamphetamine is coming to Vermont

Use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs increased with the age of the cohort, but generally remained lower than the Vermont average.

Recorded from ‘Seeking Pathways Out of the Opioid Addiction Crisis in Vermont’ live forum at Champlain College on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. Ryan Mercer, Free Press Staff Writer

More info on Vermont DARE:

South Burlington’s DARE program started about 20 years ago. Other participating Vermont police departments include Colchester, Barre and Brandon. DARE has free resources online to build family, community or school discussions on drug use, school safety and crime prevention.

Vermont Department of Education resources:

More: U.S. Surgeon General battles e-cigarettes, Juuling sales, citing children’s health ‘epidemic’

Source correction: The National DARE website lists three Vermont police department sites with DARE programs. There are four, including Colchester.

Contact Nicole Higgins DeSmet at or 802-660-1845. Follow her on Twitter @NicoleHDeSmet.

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