Army NCO Makes Difference in Brussels
March 2, 2009
- In just two months, MP reaches out to more than 100 students through D.A.R.E. program
Brussels, Belgium - Sgt. Ryan P. Cody is a Military Policeman assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Brussels. Cody has been in the Army for some 4 A,A1/2 years, and, with his wife, Kayla, arrived here in July 2008, just a few months after his return to Fort Stewart, Germany, from a 15-month assignment to Iraq.
Shortly after arriving, he was offered the opportunity to become the Brussels D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer. "I really had no idea what D.A.R.E. was about, but I signed up," he said.
D.A.R.E. is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons designed to teach children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive, drug and violence-free lives. The program was founded in Los Angeles in 1983 and has been implemented in about 75 percent of U.S. school districts and in over 43 other countries.
The Army has long encouraged its Military Police to participate in the program at DoDDS schools. The Brussels garrison has been providing D.A.R.E. officers to the Brussels American School since 1999.
Cody received formal training in the program at a course in Frankfurt and began teaching lessons at BAS in December.
"The program is structured to the students' grade level," explained BAS fifth grade teacher Annie Bryant. "The kindergarteners see Sgt. Cody four times in a month for lessons of about 15 minutes duration. The fifth-graders see him an hour a week for nine weeks."
Cody is responsible for devising his own lesson plans and for ensuring they are appropriately tailored to the age level.
"I'm here for two reasons," he explained. "First, I'm here to present the basic facts to kids about drugs, alcohol, violence and peer pressure. Second, I'm here as a role model."
Cody scrupulously shows up for each lesson in uniform - something Bryant believes is crucial to his success.
"Students become familiar with their teachers," she explained. "That's good, but, to some extent, they have a natural resistance whenever we teach subjects that have "Do NOT!" as part of the punch line."
Bryant believes that Cody's great value comes precisely from his being an outsider.
"Even though he's an adult, the students find he's someone they can relate to," she said. "He does a wonderful job informally reinforcing what we teachers put out formally. And, because they do relate to him, his independent endorsement is something the kids find particularly compelling."
BAS first grade teacher, Martha Proietto, agreed. "The students really listen to him. I know. One of his trademark bylines is his use of the word, 'Outstanding,' delivered with a certain intonation. Once, when I used the same expression in class, several of my students piped up and said, 'Oh, you sound just like Sgt. Cody!'"
Cody has found his work as the Brussels D.A.R.E. officer to be a pleasant challenge. Tailoring his lesson plans for each grade level [he has taught each grade from kindergarten through fifth and is about to start teaching seventh and eighth] is important.
"I'm really impressed with how knowledgeable and worldly these kids are, from the youngest to the older ones," he said. "The kids are surprisingly aware of tobacco and alcohol and drugs, which they know are used in the adult world. I try to educate them about the consequences."
In that regard, Cody has been up front with the students about his own former tobacco use. "Like I said, these kids are smart and ask smart questions. A fifth-grader asked me if I'd ever smoked, and I had to admit that I used to be a smoker. But I also explained how I'd realized the effect it was having on my health - for example, shortness of breath before I did PT - and that I'd quit for that reason."
Bryant pointed to this frankness as another reason for Cody's high credibility with the students. "Sgt. Cody does not preach to his students," she explained. "He tells them that smokers and people who use alcohol are also people we love."
She believes he's particularly effective in "humanizing" and otherwise making understandable to impressionable youngsters the contradiction implicit in saying, "Do NOT!" with the evidence they see daily (that alcohol and tobacco are legal in the adult world).
"I'm firmly convinced that Sgt. Cody has been a very positive role model for our students," she said. "He's firm, but approachable, and they put a lot of stock into what he says. He's touched a lot of Brussels kids in the two plus months he's been teaching D.A.R.E."
How many Brussels students has Cody "touched'" Cody did the arithmetic out loud. "18 fifth-graders, 21 fourth-graders, 20 third-graders...," for a total of 105. When asked how he knew the numbers with such accuracy, he replied, sheepishly, "It's the number of cupcakes my wife and I baked for the kids. I wrote the D.A.R.E. logo on each of them."
Observing Cody interacting with Brussels fifth-graders after a recent D.A.R.E. graduation ceremony, it's easy to validate the praise that teachers such as Bryant heap upon him.
He was surrounded with Brussels youngsters, who clearly enjoy his company. "He's very nice," said fifth-grader Chloe Proietto. "I really like and trust him."
Cody is himself a soon-to-be-parent. His wife, Kayla, is expecting the couple's first child in August. "I really think that being a D.A.R.E. instructor and being required to deal with lots of kids has been very good in focusing me on becoming a father," he said.
As 2009 has been designated as the Army's Year of the NCO, Cody had a message for his peers.
"There's an incredible diversity to what I do as an Army NCO. A year ago, I was leading patrols in Iraq. Now, I'm a Brussels MP, and on the side, I'm working with children. That's incredible," he said.