By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterFebruary 15, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Since its inception in 1983, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program has touched millions of children across the U.S., but through education, the program has done more than teach about drug and alcohol abuse.
For Spc. Chase Dickerson, 6th Military Police Detachment and Fort Rucker Elementary School D.A.R.E. officer, the program is about providing children with life lessons to help prepare them for the real world.
"It's about teaching them how to make the decisions in the classroom, so when they get into the real world they know how to make the right choice," said Dickerson. "I feel like (the D.A.R.E. program) is their first real life lesson that they'll get."
The 10-week program is for fifth grade students and encompasses a different lesson each week, and one of the main focuses of the program is Keeping it Real, which is a subprogram in D.A.R.E. that centers on drawing from real-life experiences that have happened to real students, he said.
"They get to hear real stories and real things that were said, so they can understand and have real opportunities to understand what they learn throughout (the program)," said the D.A.R.E. officer, adding that one way the children learn to do this is by using a second acronym for D.A.R.E. -- define, assess, respond, evaluate.
"We incorporate these other aspects into it so the kids can understand how to make the right decisions in real situations that they find themselves in," said Dickerson. "It's not just about teaching the kids about (drug and alcohol abuse), but more about teaching them about situations they might find themselves in. It's about helping kids make the right decisions, talking to them, being their friend and being someone they can look to when they need to talk to someone about something they have an issue with."
Those situations can range from drugs and alcohol to bullying, which is another subject the program touches on.
During the session on bullying, the students will learn about their school's bullying policy and learn about what constitutes bullying, as well as the different type of bullying, said the D.A.R.E. officer.
"We talk about what a bully is, what a bully can do -- whether cyber, physical or verbal -- and then we teach the kids how to avoid confrontation with bullies," he said. "If they do get into a confrontation, we teach them that they need to tell a trusted adult or a responsible adult, such as police officers or teachers."
One of the ways Dickerson uses to help teach the students is through interactive instruction, by which he allows the children to act out different scenarios to see how they might react.
"The children will practice situations that they get in that might involve them encountering drugs or alcohol or even a bully," he said. "They'll partner up and discuss the situations with each other to come up with a solution on their own. The goal is to have the kids come up with a resolution themselves, so they can make these decisions in the real world."
As much as D.A.R.E. is about teaching children about how to deal with these situations, the program is also meant to help build relationships between the children and responsible adults. For many of the students, the program is their first interaction with law enforcement and because of that, Dickerson said it's important that he builds a trusting relationship with them.
"Law enforcement as a whole sometimes gets a bad reputation, so the D.A.R.E. program is trying to bring that trust back to children," he said. "They can ask me any questions, tell me anything they want and they can even tell me stories that they can share in class."
"The program isn't just about teaching kids about (drug and alcohol abuse)," said the D.A.R.E. officer. "It helps the children understand that police officers, teachers and other responsible adults are the ones they should reach out to when they find themselves in a bad situation."
For many of the students, like Kayleah Song and Mea Salg-Rawls, they're grateful to have Dickerson as their D.A.R.E. officer to teach them some of their most important lessons.
"The most important lesson I've learned from D.A.R.E. is how to deal with stress," said Song. "It helped me a lot and I'm thankful that Mr. Dickerson can come to teach us."
"I've learned that when someone asks if you want to use drugs, there are ways to say 'No!'" said Salg-Rawls. "(Like,) changing the subject or saying 'no' while giving a reason or excuse."
After the completion of the program, the students will graduate with a celebration where they will be presented with a certificate to celebrate their achievement.
"It's a party for them to celebrate that they've completed the first turning point in their life," said Dickerson. "The way I look at DARE is that it is the first step to get a real lesson on life, and that's what I want them to take away from it."