Truth or Scare

Drug-using DARE graduates come clean about the program's faults.

Of course, the only times you'll hear about the DARE program are the times when negative things occur, says Edwards. "You'll only hear about the kids who had a beer party up on the hill and six of them got in a car and tried to out-race a train. Those are the stories you hear, and not about the million other kids who said 'no' that day."

Edwards makes the point that DARE can only do so much, and after that, it will be up to the student to make his own decisions. He has a favorite story to tell to illustrate this point: "After giving a class on violence reduction at one of the middle schools, I saw a fight in the hallway. Two of the students that were fighting were two students that were in my class at two separate times. I sat them down in my office, and I asked one of the females, 'Can you tell me what you learned about violence reduction?' And she went down the line from the top, where I started, to all the examples of how to reduce violence and how to not get involved, how to avoid it. She went through each one of the steps we had talked about in the classroom. I asked her, 'Why couldn't you use one of those steps when this person confronted you?' And she said, 'Just because I know this information doesn't mean I have to use it.'"

He keeps in touch with some of his old students, Edwards says, and he sometimes asks them about their DARE experience. "I've met a lot of first-place essay-contest winners who remember winning the contest, and they still believe they'll never use drugs. Unfortunately, I meet some who decide otherwise. I asked what part of the class they didn't understand, because maybe they were having problems in their life with what was going on around them that prevented them from concentrating on what was being said to them. They could have not been paying attention."

"I don't remember anything from DARE, but that's because I was always drunk or high," admits Tasha. She is thirteen but could pass for at least five years older. She sits in a blue chair at a desk in Cedars Day Treatment in Lakewood, an alternative school for kids who attend because the courts have sent them there.

"I graduated from their DARE courses or whatever. I remember them bringing in sacks of weed, cocaine, acid, pipes and bottles of vodka--the real stuff. They'd leave it there during a break, and when they came back, it would be gone."

Two other Cedars students, Marissa and Danielle, sit in desks in the narrow classroom. Seventeen-year-old Marissa is absorbed in her lunch, but her purposeful sneer eventually gives way to a tight smile. Danielle is particularly beautiful, her dark hair pulled into a bun on the top of her head, and she has a relaxed, unassuming demeanor. Jim Lorenz, a teacher at Cedars, listens from a chair in the middle of the room.

"They never sat down and talked to you; they talked at you," Tasha continues, never looking up. "I really never believed any of it, because my sister and the people around me were already getting high. It was kind of normal, and they were telling us that normal people don't do it. They said that once you use drugs you'd get addicted, but I never believed you could get addicted. I just, well, I kind of still don't." She flashes an apologetic look to Lorenz.

Marissa shifts in her seat and adds, "I think DARE was just another boring lecture for us that we'd have to sit and listen to. We didn't pay attention because we'd already experienced drugs, and if you like it, you like it, and if you don't, you don't."

These girls could have taught their fifth-grade classes what marijuana was before the police officer had finished defining self-esteem. When the teachers were explaining what it meant to resist peer pressure, these girls knew no one was talking to them.

"It's easy to get ignored," says Danielle. "It's the support here that makes us feel good."

"There's a lot that conventional schools are missing," says Lorenz. "I think that the role conventional schools think they have is to classify students, to categorize and separate them. They have a certain percentage that have to be very successful, a certain percentage that have to be moderately successful, a certain percentage that have to struggle and a certain percentage that fail. And I think they actually see that as their job, to see how willingly kids accept external controls. I think the kids we get to see at Cedars are the ones that, for various reasons, aren't willing to accept external controls. One of the things I try to get across is that school failed you, you didn't fail school."

Though most students at Cedars don't have much choice but to attend, no one seems annoyed or unwilling to participate in assignments or activities, even if it means a required urinalysis each week. The school's philosophy is to get through to its students by getting to know them individually, working with them one-on-one or in small groups, doing things they enjoy to bring out their talents and skills.

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