Tuesday, November 01, 2011

TOP STORY >> New approach to drug education

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville schools have done away with D.A.R.E. this year in favor of Project ALERT, a less expensive and more flexible program that focuses on teaching children techniques to resist drugs, alcohol and smoking.

The program is designed for middle-school students, and is already in place for the city’s fifth- and seventh-graders in the Pulaski County Special School District and at charter schools, said school resource officer Jennifer Thrasher of the Jacksonville Police Department. The program will expand to eighth grade next year.

Thrasher and fellow Jacksonville school resource officer Richard Butterton received certification to teach Project ALERT over the summer for $15 each, a special the program offered as it revamped its website, www.projectalert.org.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program could come back to local schools in the future, but the department wanted to try something new, Thrasher said.

D.A.R.E. is a national program that costs taxpayers $1 billion to $2 billion per year, and it took in about $2.9 million from royalties and merchandising sales in 2000, according to the Center for Educational Research and Development’s website, www.cerd.org.

Project ALERT’s interactive lessons approach students with realistic scenarios. Many of the lessons include videos, activities or quizzes.

“I try to teach them confidence. I want to hit them with real-life situations,” Thrasher said.

Before every lesson, children are asked to fill out a pre-survey so that officers can know what they know about each topic. Many of the lessons include videos, activities and quizzes.

Thrasher said she wants to do more than give children the facts, she wants to build from what they already know or correct them if what they know isn’t accurate.

“It’s a lot of fun to go in there (the classroom). To me, education is proactive. To educate kids and give them the tools to make good choices, it’s No. 1 of what we do,” she said.

Fifth-grader Amber Slash agreed, “I think it’s going to keep younger people from doing this stuff. She’s (Thrasher) nice, and I can talk to her.”

Slash and her classmates at Lighthouse Academy charter school performed skits last week in which they had to imitate a real-life situation, practice what they learned from Project ALERT so far and use facts Thrasher has taught them.

Many of the students laughed as several groups performed skits in which part of the group approached others and offered them drugs. Someone played the part of a police officer and arrested the dealer after the students told the officer what they were doing.

In one scenario, a student was arrested for underage drinking. In another addressed the consequences of drug abuse.

Project ALERT teaches the following 11 lessons: Introduction to Project ALERT, consequences of smoking cigarettes and marijuana, drinking consequences and alternatives, introduction to pressures, social pressures to use drugs, resisting internal and external pressures to use drugs, practicing resistance skills, inhalant abuse, review and practice resistance techniques, smoking cessation and benefits of not using drugs. It also has three booster lessons, motivating resistance to drugs, practice resisting external and internal pressures and benefits of resisting drugs.

The officers adjust their schedule to what works best for each school. Butterton teaches lessons during the health class every seventh-grader must take for one semester.

After Christmas break, he will start fresh with seventh-graders who signed up to have health during the second semester this year.

Red Ribbon Week was held last week in all PCSSD elementary schools. Taylor Elementary in Jacksonville heard Chief Warrant Officer David Specht speak.