Truth or Scare

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

Danielle came to Cedars after she was expelled from her high school for distributing marijuana. She likes it that the people at Cedars have drug experiences themselves, so they don't have to pretend to know what she's been through. If a modeling career doesn't work out, Danielle says she'd like to work as a drug counselor for teenagers.

"I don't think I would trade the experiences I've had, because they've taught me a lot," she says. "I think DARE could teach a lot more than they do. I think they're right to start in fifth grade, but if I ran a drug program, I don't think I'd hire anybody. It would just be me. Because of the experiences I've had, I could teach a lot more than a regular DARE officer. I'd tell kids to make their own decisions but to be careful. In DARE, they pretty much just tell you that drugs are bad, and that's not enough."

If Marissa had her way, she'd also run a drug program that focused on personal experience. "I would interview people who are from rehabs or prisons, people like this one woman I met who made drugs in jail. That impacted me, and it would impact other people. I wouldn't teach it to fifth-graders, but maybe sixth- or seventh-graders, in middle school. It all depends on who I could get to come in, but people that the kids would never have met before, like maybe someone who got AIDS from bad needles or whatever. Just to show them that it can happen to them. To make it more real."

After the DARE program had been in the Denver Public Schools for several years, a 1995 study administered by the Division of Adolescent and School Health (part of the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) concluded that 84 percent of DPS students had used alcohol, 62 percent had used marijuana, and 7 percent had used cocaine. DARE Colorado's Russ Ahrens compares the DARE program to math. He points out that if you were taught math for only one year, it isn't likely that you'd remember a lot of it later. He says that there is discussion in the city about adding a junior high DARE curriculum in addition to the fifth-grade program currently in use.

"The real challenge--not just in Colorado, but in society--is more drug-prevention education, not less," says Ahrens. He says that studies show the risk factor for drug use drops 78 percent after two DARE programs.

The idea of polling former DARE students to ask how the program might be improved is still a foreign one, as no DARE administrators seem willing to admit any fault might exist in the curriculum or its approach. But Ahrens welcomes positive DARE graduates to come and speak about their experiences in a drug-free lifestyle. It doesn't look like speakers with past drug experiences will be allowed to share their stories with the kids who are asking to hear them.

"We don't think that that is a positive behavior to show kids," Ahrens says of bringing former addicts into classes. "We don't want any comparisons between what a person did wrong and what they should have done right."

After all, what's the point of being realistic when it comes to drug education?

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