Students DARE to be different thanks to life skills lessons

2013-07-09T00:00:00Z 2013-07-09T23:26:05Z Students DARE to be different thanks to life skills lessonsMarlene A. Zloza, (219) 662-5340

Twenty-five years ago, fifth-grader James Ghrist was a member of the first Drug Abuse Resistance Education graduating class in Munster.

So when Officer James Ghrist had the opportunity to become the Munster Police Department DARE officer nine years ago, he jumped at the chance.

"It helped me when I was in fifth grade," Ghrist said. "When faced with peer pressure, I thought back to the stories we studied and the skills I learned, and I was able to face the pressure."

The experience convinced Ghrist that DARE is a valuable educational tool, and the Munster Police Department agrees. It has sent Ghrist to three public and two private schools weekly each year to present the 10-week DARE curriculum to fifth-graders.

In addition, high school resource Officer Joe Pacheco teaches the eighth-grade DARE curriculum annually at Wilbur Wright Middle School.

"We reach about 1,650 students a year," Ghrist said. "It gets kids ready for the pressures they will face in middle school and in high school."

Also dedicated to DARE about 30 years after it was first instituted in Los Angeles is the Hobart Police Department and Lt. Jack Grennes, who is a member of the DARE Indiana Advisory Council and 14-year veteran DARE officer.

"I got to see the previous DARE officer in the classroom before he transferred, and was impressed with the way the kids related to him," Grennes said. He spends three days a week during the school year teaching DARE to about 330 fifth-graders in four Hobart elementary schools.

"I thought, 'what a great way to connect with kids.' I've loved it."

Grennes said DARE Indiana introduced its third curriculum last year to keep current.

"It was all about drugs 14 years ago, but now its more about decision making, with more self-awareness," he said. "It's about understanding each other, relationships and communication skills."

While Munster, Hobart and six other Lake County police departments teach DARE, nine others that used to participate have dropped the program.

"We used to have DARE, but now use GREAT, and have since about 1991," said Sgt. Mike O'Donnell, of the Highland Police Department. "GREAT also includes instruction about gangs."

New Lowell Police Chief Erik Matson said while Lowell discontinued DARE more than 15 years ago.

"It's something we might look at (bringing back) in the future," he said.

Lt. Richard Hoyda of the Hammond Police Department said his department was forced to drop DARE due to manpower needs.

"We had four officers assigned to DARE full-time, and we needed them back on the streets," he said.

Likewise in Merrillville, where the Merrillville Community School Corp. used to fund the program.

"They couldn't afford it anymore, and we didn't have the money for it in our budget," said Merrillville Police Chief Joseph Petruch. "We now have just one school resource officer for 6,000 students, and it's just not enough."

Ghrist said the Munster Police Department pays only the DARE officers' salaries, while other program funding comes from parent-teacher groups, civic clubs and businesses.

"We honestly could not continue this program without their assistance each year," he said.

Mary Ann Chapko, principal at Eisenhower Elementary School in Crown Point, is glad the Crown Point Police Department teaches DARE to fifth-graders as they prepare to enter middle school.

"It is extremely valuable; every year I'm convinced it (DARE) has a long-lasting effect," she said.

Karen DeBoth, of Cedar Lake, is the mother of four sons who graduated from DARE at MacArthur Elementary School and later served as role models, as well as a daughter who is a high school freshman.

"It is absolutely worth it," she said of DARE. "It opened up my children's eyes to what is out there ... drugs and alcohol are in all schools, but DARE made them aware of how to deal with it when the time came."

She added that as role models, her sons "were able to show the younger students what their future could be like without drugs and other negative influences."

DeBoth is also convinced DARE equipped her sons, who graduated from Crown Point High School in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012, with the leadership skills they used to become a resident assistant at Purdue University and another college, and a police officer for the Bartholomew County Sheriff's Department.

DARE Officer Jerry Smith, now also the interim police chief in Cedar Lake, "always told the kids, 'It's not where you come from, it's where you are going,' and they remembered that," DeBoth said.

Smith agrees DARE has evolved from a program that concentrated on drug and alcohol resistance to lessons in "building life skills, self-esteem, team building and friendship."

Jennifer Sutton, the mother of Emily Sutton, this year's overall DARE Essay Contest winner in Hobart, agreed DARE has been beneficial for all three of her children.

"I'd actually put money into it if they said they couldn't afford it anymore," she said.

Grennes knows what makes DARE work.

"You've for to have a passion for it, because the kids will see it if you don't," he said. "I enjoy working with kids, and I plan to do it until I retire."

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About Cedar Lake

Cedar Lake Town Hall

7408 Constitution Ave Cedar Lake, IN 46303

Cedar Lake Police Department

7408 Constitution Ave Cedar Lake, IN 46303

Cedar Lake Fire Department

P.O. Box 459
9400 W 133rd Ave. Cedar Lake, IN 46303

Cedar Lake Parks and Recreation

7408 Constitution Ave Cedar Lake, IN 46303

Hanover Community School Corporation

9520 W. 133rd Ave, Cedar Lake, IN 46303

Latest Local Offers