Keeping kids away from harmful substances, like drugs, and dangerous situations, like gangs and violence, is part of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program taught to students in 75 percent of school districts in the nation.
In Saline, it's done by DARE Officer Dave Ringe, who has taught the program for the last 16 years
“Kids learn to deal with everyday situations, and how to make their own choices,” Ringe said.
Lessons are accomplished by asking students their opinions on various issues, as well as presenting various scenarios involving peer pressure. Worksheets and factsheets also are utilized during instruction, as well as activities with older students and a mascot.
Saline High School students from Students Against Destructive Decisions visits elementary classrooms and perform a peer resistance skit to show younger students how to handle peer pressure.
Ringe also brings along his partner and DARE Mascot Daren the Lion.
“He is the mascot because he represents strength, confidence, courage and bravery -- many of the traits needed to stand up to peer pressure," Ringe said.
Ringe teaches his lessons to fifth graders. Each class consists of about an hour of class time, and starts the second week of school until February. Several classrooms participate in the program, which includes multiple sessions.
Each classes works together as a team, and if all students turn in weekly assignments, the class as a whole gets a star for that week and eventually earns prizes, like a pizza party. At the end of the program, students also graduate from the program and receive a T-shirt.
Some of the homework included in the program includes children completing an essay about their experience in class, or participating in activities done at home with parents.
“Parents are important role models,” Ringe said.
Heritage Elementary School fifth grade teacher Julie Myers agreed with Ringe, and said that student-parent activities is an important part of the lesson.
“It gives parents and kids a chance to have a conversation,” she said.
One of the classes taught in Myers' classroom addressed tobacco use. Ringe explained that children often try tobacco to be cool and then get hooked. Students frowned and were disgusted when Ringe told a story about a famous baseball player who was permanently disfigured from using chewing tobacco.
Ringe also talked about smoking cigarettes.
“Did you know there are people who can’t even walk across the room from smoking,” Ringe told the students. “Tobacco harms your brain, mouth, throat, heart and lungs.”
Ringe addressed peer pressure and asked the students what they would do if someone offered them a cigarette. Ringe acknowledged that peer pressure is tough and that getting out of a risky situation can be difficult for children wanting to impress their friends and be accepted.
Sometimes, Ringe said, children will make fun of others for not trying a harmful substance, but there are ways to cope and stay in charge. He told students they can walk away, ignore the situation, give a reason or fact, change the subject, keep refusing, use humor or just say no.
“It’s also good to hang out with people who make good choices,” Ringe said. “Look at all the choices you have and make the best choice.”
Once out of the situation, Ringe said, “Ask yourself was that the best decision I could have made.”
In addition to teaching various skills, Ringe said the program fosters a positive relationship between students and police.
“It’s huge for the relationship between police and youth,” he said. “It helps students see police in a good light.”
Ringe credits teachers he has worked with over the years with helping to keep students focused during class. He said he teaches using humor and by softening the usual strong stance he embodies while patrolling the streets and dealing with criminals.
“Students not only learn important information during the class, they also have a lot of fun," Myers said.