The Columbia County school system is ending its decadelong association with the D.A.R.E. program.
Starting next fall, the focus on Drug Abuse Resistance Education in Columbia County's elementary schools will shift to gang resistance in middle schools.
"We feel we need a stronger focus on drugs and gangs at the middle school - that's when actual drug experimentation begins," said Charles Nagle, the associate superintendent for student and school services.
The D.A.R.E. program is taught for 17 weeks - each fifth-grade class has it once a week for half a year - in the elementary schools. Starting next year, schools will replace it with a program called G.R.E.A.T.
"We are still going to be in the elementary schools, but it's not going to be as cumbersome a program," said Capt. Jim March, who heads the Community Services division in the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
School officials said they thought the D.A.R.E. program had gone stale and was not focused enough on drug education. Also, recent studies on the effectiveness of D.A.R.E. have shown mixed results. Studies to measure the longer-term effects of the program have concluded that D.A.R.E. does significantly affect pupils' attitudes toward alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, but the findings indicate that exposure to D.A.R.E. does not significantly reduce the actual use of these drugs.
The Gang Resistance Education and Training program is similar to D.A.R.E., Capt. March said, in that it promotes positive attitudes toward law enforcement and teaches children how to handle conflicts, set goals, resist drugs and avoid gangs and violence.
Both programs are part of the school system's commitment to teach drug awareness to children in kindergarten through 12th grades.
"In the past, we've tried to meet some of those standards through Red Ribbon Week, but we want to make sure it's more than ceremonial, and to do that we are going to have to have more stringent criteria to address these needs and this is a step toward that," Mr. Nagle said.
G.R.E.A.T. has been a pilot program at Columbia Middle School for the past two years, where it has been taught to seventh-graders once a week for nine weeks. When it is fully implemented next year, it will be taught to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders through the health curriculum, Capt. March said. Both programs are funded through the sheriff's office, which has three officers assigned to the programs.
Mr. Nagle said he is writing a memorandum of understanding to seal the deal with the sheriff's office.
"We're seeing a lot more activity with drugs among our young people, and we're hoping we can target it at the age it is happening," Mr. Nagle said. "Instead of going through the motions, we need to have it on our minds and in our daily thoughts."
In Richmond County, pupils still participate in the D.A.R.E. program. The sheriff's office has one officer who rotates among the 38 elementary schools, teaching D.A.R.E. at six schools a year, said Lt. Leon Garvin, who handles public relations, crime prevention and D.A.R.E. for the sheriff's office.
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