Schools promote safe behavior

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Studends need the skills to face peer pressure or bullying. Whether through a D.A.R.E. program or other means, students should be well equipped to face whatever challenges ahead of them. | File Photo

Students heading into the new school year should be equipped with the skills to face any situation involving peer pressure, gangs, bullying or drugs and alcohol. The D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program is a way schools help students make informed decisions.

“What started out as a prevention program for drugs, alcohol and tobacco in Los Angeles in 1983, has expanded to decision-making processes and how to maintain healthy relationships with friends and family,” explained Nick Skweres, a Darien Police Officer and current president of the Illinois D.A.R.E. Officers Association. “D.A.R.E. officers lay the foundation for decision making for the students and give them information so that they can build themselves healthy lives.”

Skweres teaches the D.A.R.E. program to students in fifth, seventh and eighth grades at four schools each year. The basic elementary program is made up of 10 lessons on alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, friendships, making choices and peer pressures, with supplemental lessons on Internet safety, bullying, gangs, over-the-counter and prescription drugs and role models.

“The benefits we reap from the D.A.R.E. program are many,” said Mickey Tovey, principal of Our Lady of Peace Catholic School in Darien, one of the schools that Skweres visits each year. “One of the most important results I see is an increased ability on the part of our students to stand up for themselves. The D.A.R.E. program builds on the values instilled in the home, reinforced in the school and given voice by this program.”

“Often, our students know what the right thing to do is, but working with Officer Skweres equips them with the language to act upon that knowledge,” he continued. “What we take for granted as adults, that ability to simply say no to those behaviors we find at variance with our values, is a skill that needs to be taught. [Skweres] helps ours students form the words that support their beliefs.”

Schools have a variety of ways to educate students on the same topics that D.A.R.E. covers. Lake Forest Academy, which has a zero tolerance policy, has a required seminar program that educates students on alcohol and other drugs, explained Chris Tennyson, dean of students. Additionally, the school does an alcohol and drug survey each spring, hosts a Healthy Choices Day and has a campus S.A.D.D. chapter and Red Ribbon Club. The Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette has found other methods by which to embed these important conversations into existing curriculum, said Dan Schwartz, head of school.

“We address [the same topics as D.A.R.E.], and other issues in a coordinated approach, relying on our 45-minute daily advisory period, science class and PE to help unpack the subtleties within each issue,” Schwartz said. “In addition, through carefully choosing literature and studies in which these issues are apparent (in English, social studies, student government, etc.), we provide an opportunity for guided discussions that run throughout the year. In these ways, we encourage ongoing thoughtful interactions with these ideas over and over again all year long.”

Through whatever means, students should be equipped to face whatever challenges ahead of them. To get a D.A.R.E. program started at your school, contact the Illinois D.A.R.E. Officers
Association at www.idoa.org or by email at idoa@idoa.org.