Maplewood police may drop D.A.R.E.

Maplewood elementary schools with D.A.R.E. programs

• St. Jerome’s Catholic
• Gethsemane Lutheran
• Carver Elementary
• Weaver Elementary
• Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Maplewood may totally cut its more than 20-year-old D.A.R.E. program.

The Maplewood Police Department presented a potential replacement that would continue to build relationships between cops and students to the Maplewood City Council on Nov. 25. 

In the new strategy, school liaisons -- in addition to the existing school resource officer -- would be made available to Maplewood schools.

Teachers would be able to invite an officer into the classroom to add to lessons with themes similar to D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), such as health or civics.

“It would be focused more heavily on what the school and the teachers’ needs are versus the delivery of a canned curriculum,” said Police Chief Paul Schnell.

According to Schnell, much of the decision hinges on return on investment.

“These are really tough conversations to have when you’re talking about popular programming,” he said. “The public also demands that whatever we do, we need to make sure that it’s as effective as possible.”

The department has been comparing the outcomes of the 10-week program to the about 350 hours that three officers put into preparing for the hour per week each spring they teach kids about drug abuse and violence prevention, peer pressure and cyberbullying. The decision isn’t finalized, but may be soon, according to Schnell.

Schools push back

On a recent Monday at 3 a.m., a college freshmen called his former teacher Barb Mauer.

“He used the word suicide,” the fifth-grade teacher at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School said at the city council workshop.

She explained, “One of the things that he talked about is that he’s just so stressed with life in general. He said his roommate said, ‘Smoke a little pot, and things will look a lot better.’”

The first thing that “came back to him,” she said, was advice from a D.A.R.E. officer on alternative coping mechanisms: Go for a run or call a friend. For Mauer, that means the D.A.R.E. lessons do stick.

When Emily Schabert, a freshman at Hill-Murray School, heard a rumor that D.A.R.E. was going to be dropped, she called her former principal at Presentation, Michael Rogers. She said he invited her to speak in front of the council.

She talked to her friends at Hill-Murray and North High, and they were disappointed to hear the news, she said.

“Even if this program saves one kid, how can you possibly say it’s not effective?” Schabert said at the workshop. “Students like myself and those who I spoke to are evidence that the D.A.R.E. program works.”

Rogers said he gathered feedback at a recent school advisory council meeting.

“The resounding impression I had from adults [is]: not only is it the highlight of fifth grade, but the effectiveness of the program in their minds is undoubted,” he said at the workshop.

Weighing effectiveness

There’s no doubt that many parents, educators and students have fond memories of D.A.R.E., according to studies and locals.

The most commonly reported result is the positive relationships between students and police officers, but researchers have struggled to pin down the program’s effect on a common goal: Reducing high-risk behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse.

“We want to have our officers have contact with them,” Schnell said. “At the same time, we need to be in a position where we’re smart about using our limited resources and look at all options of how we might get better outcomes.”

A 2001 U.S. Surgeon General report says, “Evidence on the effects of the traditional D.A.R.E. curriculum ... shows that children who participate are as likely to use drugs as those who do not participate.”

It has no “statistically significant long-term effect on youth illicit drug use,” according to a 2003 Government Accountability Office report that took into account six long-term evaluations in the 1990s.

Academic interference

Schnell watched the D.A.R.E. program drift away in Hastings a few years ago, when he was the city’s police chief.

School leaders abandoned the 17-year-old classroom staple, in order to offer more time for required subjects.

Another factor in Hastings is something Schnell is struggling with again in Maplewood: What programming is proven to be worth the police department’s and the schools’ time?

Many metro agencies have faced the same issues. With the pressure of academic standards and scaled-back budgets, many school districts, including St. Paul and Minneapolis, dropped the officer-led sessions to maximize contact with students in the classroom.

Edgerton Elementary School, which is located in Maplewood and part of the Roseville Area School District, stopped participating due to interference with its established curriculum.

Minnesota D.A.R.E. executive director Kathi Ackerman said the organization is seeing “overwhelming demand” to get it back in schools, in response to the prevalence of violence, bullying and drug abuse in schools nationwide.

The program’s numbers show that participation was highest statewide in the past 10 years in 2003-2004 with 88,563 students. That number progressively decreased to a 2007-2008 low of 68,801 kids and came back up in 2011-2012 to 77,433 participants.

She said cuts come down to management philosophy.

“It’s where the chief feels officers are most effective,” she said. “They’re just going to be put in the classroom instead of on the street.”

Ackerman said it surprised her to hear that Maplewood police may discontinue D.A.R.E. programming.

“Why wouldn’t we put them where they belong, in there with the kids, trying to prevent something from happening?” Ackerman said. “[Otherwise], when are our cops called in? When the bullying issues become violence.”

Continued prevention

A 1997 review of the program included input from many schools and organizations throughout the state. A main issue the Minnesota D.A.R.E. Advisory Council found is that D.A.R.E. can’t be isolated from other factors, making it difficult to show its impact. The group was made up of Skip Humphrey, who was Minnesota’s attorney general at the time, and leaders in public safety, education and health professions.

It was clear to the advisory council that students didn’t use or reportedly remember the information for very long. But, most program participants reported a clear benefit -- an improved relationship between police and students.

Schnell said he is hoping to keep that going by using officers in the classrooms to underscore lessons teachers are already teaching, instead of dropping in a separate curriculum.

Council member Kathy Juenemann said that strategy could be a better approach, because it maintains the relationship, rather than stopping it at D.A.R.E. graduation. D.A.R.E. in recent years has offered curricula for middle and high schools, but Maplewood has limited it to elementary schools.

“Rather than let it ebb away because the schools don’t have room for it, your idea is great,” Juenemann told Schnell at the workshop. “We need to be able to say to people, ‘No, we’re not taking something away; we’re doing something much better.’”

The police department hasn’t finalized the details of its first strategy and is also considering a community-wide push to offer kids positive adult role models.

Mayor Will Rossbach said finding a D.A.R.E. replacement will be a challenge.

“It seems like it would be very difficult ... to set [a new program] up so that it would have anywhere near the sustained and in-depth impact,” he said.

Schabert agreed.

“If you have a random police officer there sometimes, I don’t think that’s a caring adult,” the student said in an interview after the workshop.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at kroby@lillienews.com or 651-748-7814. You can also find her on www.twitter.com (@KRobyNews).
 

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