More than 300 fifth-grade students gathered at Crawford State Park on Wednesday to celebrate the end of a yearlong journey through the Crawford County Drug Abuse Resistance Program.

More than 300 fifth-grade students gathered at Crawford State Park on Wednesday to celebrate the end of a yearlong journey through the Crawford County Drug Abuse Resistance Program.

The 2010 DARE graduates spent their school day Wednesday learning about the various emergency response agencies, such as are fire departments, EMS and law enforcement agencies. The students also participated in various fishing and nature-related activities.

But as fun and as informative as Wednesday’s activities were, the real lesson was what the students learned through participation in the DARE program.

“We actually get to learn what alcohol and all that would do to you and how much damage it would do,” said Byron Whitaker, Northeast Elementary School student. “When you finish the DARE program, you know how bad all of that stuff is.”

Kinsey Schwan, student at the Weir Attendance Center, said the DARE program not only taught her about the various drugs “that are out there,” but also about the severity of the consequences for someone who gets involved with those drugs.

“I learned some facts about some of the stuff that can kill you,” she said. “It’s very important to learn what to do and what not to do, and I learned not to smoke or drink beer.”

Sydney Fields, student at Frank Layden Elementary School in Frontenac, said along with learning not to do drugs at a young age, she also learned that many drugs are detrimental at any age.

“DARE is important because it teaches you not to do drugs when you get older,” she said.
Crawford County Undersheriff Dan Peak, coordinator of the county DARE initiative, said the program has evolved since being introduced in Crawford County in 1991. Rather than just focusing on drugs and alcohol, Peak said DARE also now includes topics such as bullying, which has become a growing problem in public schools. There also is more talk of methamphetamines than there had been in the past.

“As new problem areas arise, the DARE program tries its best to address them,” he said. “If we feel a particular school has an issue that needs addresses, such as bullying, we make sure to focus on that and help out as much as we can.”

Peak said DARE officers walk a fine line between introducing a serious topic and discussing it in ways that are as enjoyable as they are instructive.

“We’ve really changed our approach as the program has evolved,” he said. “It used to be more of a stand-and-deliver approach, but now we try to have more interaction with the students. We feel that helps their retention to be a lot greater.

“It’s a serious topic,” he said, “but it wouldn’t be effective if the kids weren’t also having fun.”