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Thursday, February 24, 2000

D.A.R.E. program

The anti-drug program's
message is heard by elementary
students, but drugs are a
problem with older students

By Crystal Kua


Student leaders and Board of Education members are questioning the effectiveness of the popular Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

While DARE's anti-drug message is heard by elementary students, drugs still become a problem as these students get older, they said.

"It's not working," said Sara Cunningham, Big Island representative of the Hawaii State Student Council.

"If we were to look at DARE and its results, and if it's been successful with us putting in money in elementary and possibly the middle-school, then I would assume then that the usage rate would be less as they get older, but that's not the reality," board member Shannon Ajifu said.

The board's Student Services Committee called yesterday for a review of all drug education programs in public schools to determine if they are successful and whether taxpayers' dollars should continue to fund them.

"I think it's maybe time for us to start taking a real hard look at the programs we have out there, what's working -- how, when and where -- to make sure we're spending money in a proper manner and getting some results," committee Chairman Mike Victorino said. "From what I'm hearing right now, we're not."

Victorino and other committee members asked the Department of Education to report back to the committee next month on a list of drug education programs being taught in the schools and whether they are working.

"We want to see if these programs have some validity. Are we spending our money in good areas or in areas that are proving to be fruitful, or are we spending money that maybe we ought to take a look at changing?" Victorino said.

The questions surrounding the DARE program in Hawaii follow national criticism of the program.

In 1997, researchers conducting a longer-term study of various drug awareness programs concluded that DARE was ineffective in reducing drug use among schoolchildren. Similar conclusions have been reached by others who have studied DARE students in other parts of the country.

Kendyl Ko, a department educational specialist who oversees the Safe/Drug-Free Schools program, said that assessment of the DARE program here shows that it's conducted in a different and more effective way than on the mainland.

"On the mainland the DARE officers go in for two weeks to the school, provide a drug education program, and that's it. In Hawaii a DARE officer tends to attend all school events and activities. They are part of the school community," Ko said.

DARE is in all elementary schools and plans to expand to intermediate and high schools, Ko said.

He said the department spends $60,000 annually on DARE, mainly for training and materials. The police department spends more than the Department of Education because it incurs personnel costs, Ko said.

The reason drug prevention programs are targeted at elementary school students is because it's easier to prevent bad habits from forming, Ko said.

"Our approach is that new knowledge is like wet cement, that the child is gaining new knowledge that can be molded and formed. Once that thing is hardened, it's very hard to break that kind of habit," Ko said.

"Children know that drugs and cigarettes and alcohol are bad for them, so knowledge is not the problem; it's to provide them with alternatives to getting into using these types of substances."

Cunningham, a high school sophomore, rated the drug problem at her school an 8 on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst.

She told committee members that drug dealing occurs on campus and that she knows a student who was arrested for selling marijuana on campus.

She and Loni Takeoka, a senior at Konawaena High School, said that while the program may be helping to prevent drug use by elementary students, it does not go far enough to keep high school students drug-free.

They suggested funneling some of the funding going to elementary school drug education programs to programs at high schools, where drugs are more available, to fund certified drug education counselors and other projects geared toward older students.

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