UNION COUNTY, NJ — If you were one of the millions of children who completed the drug abuse resistance DARE program between 1983 and 2009, you may be surprised to learn it will soon cease to exist in some areas, replaced by a new statewide effort.
The program, touted in 1983 as an innovative effort that grew from one Los Angeles school district to a nationwide initiative, has been taught to fifth and sixth grade students by police officers here in New Jersey.
Whether the national program continues, though, or is replaced in some school districts by a new program, remains in question.
DARE, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, has worked well in New Jersey since 1983 according to supporters, but the national organization said the Garden State failed to follow their new curriculum, more geared to today’s drug issues.
The problem began when the national organization changed its curriculum to “Keepin it REAL” in 2012 and New Jersey decided to stay with the tried and true curriculum “Too Good for Drugs,” which they felt had worked since 1983. That is when the divide began and continued to fester and grow between the two factions.
The new national curriculum is not an anti-drug program but one that focuses on being honest, safe and responsible. DARE’S original curriculum was not shaped by prevention specialists, as the new program is, but by police officers and teachers in California.
Behavioral scientists found that instead of bombarding students with information in 45-minute lectures, a hands-on program that would build communication and decision making skills while letting children rehearse these tactics using role play would go further in keeping students away from drugs and alcohol.
On the other hand, New Jersey advocates maintained the DARE curriculum they had been using for years was working while the national model was untested and not proven to work for elementary students. The national organization strongly objected to this stance and filed a lawsuit to remove New Jersey’s charter.
In the lawsuit, the national organization said the state went against its charter by using a curriculum they no longer supported. They also noted that if New Jersey continued to go against the national program changes, they would no longer be part of the national franchise and barred from using the DARE logo.
The state lost that legal battle in 2012 and had to pay more than a half million dollars to the national organization. They also were forbidden to use the old curriculum under the DARE national logo. But that was not the end of DARE in New Jersey by any means.
Enter L.E.A.D., or Law Enforcement Against Drugs, who claim they took over as the state’s anti-drug education masters, using the old curriculum previously approved by the state education department and accepted as part of the core curriculum.
L.E.A.D., started by police chiefs and school officials in New Jersey, was supposed to carry on the original DARE program, which they said worked well in addressing the needs of drug prevention in the state. Although the program was expected to continue as it did under DARE, it appears it will have competition from the national organization.
According to DARE America, the D.A.R.E program is not dead in New Jersey at all, and actually will be taught using the new curriculum in schools starting this fall.
Scott Gilliam, director of training for DARE America, said federal approval of arbitration in March cleared the way for the national program to begin reestablishing a training center in the state, as well as a statewide organization overseeing it. In addition, 21 New Jersey officers recently graduated from a two-week, 80-hour training course on how to teach the new DARE curriculum to students.
“We teach them all kinds of things from classroom management to how to facilitate lessons,” said Gilliam, adding “I think DARE probably is the only organization that requires two-week training so that we can be assured that the officers that go into the classroom are quality officers.”
He pointed out that officers who do not exhibit the specific skills needed to deliver the program accurately do not graduate from DARE training.
Gilliam, one of the founders of the DARE program, was working as a police officer in Los Angeles when he founded the program in 1983.
“I’ve been doing it for 31 years now and we’ve always said if we could just capture that community relationship between the officers, the kids, the parents, there would be no question that DARE was effective,” Gilliam said, noting “there is not an officer out there that hasn’t had that special relationship, or those kids who have a better relationship with their local police departments because of what that officer has done in those ten weeks when they were in the classroom.”
“We know the effectiveness. In fact, we know that there have been tests that show in some cities that when the DARE program is in place, crime drops among youth,” he added.
Until a funding source is set up for the community-based program here in New Jersey, Gilliam said, DARE America will be financing the cost of officer training and providing student workbooks for the first year to all of the officers who graduate.
“DARE has continued to be the ‘go to’ organization that is repeatedly called upon to fill the void and help country after country develop its own DARE program,” Gilliam said.
By the end of 2010, more than 9,000 international law enforcement officers had been trained in nine DARE training centers throughout the world and are now teaching the DARE curriculum in 13 languages to hundreds of thousands of school children in 44 different countries, he added.
The success of the DARE program is unprecedented and marked by growth extending internationally. Now DARE is in Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Mexico, Iceland, Cuba, Spain, Hungary, among others.