Monday, August 21, 2017

Lodge Grass Elementary School student Lyric Kelly (left) graduates from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program on Thursday, June 25. One hundred seventy-two students graduated from DARE in Lodge Grass and 156 in Crow Agency.

‘The police are your friends’

Crow Agency, Lodge Grass elementary school students graduate from DARE program
Elementary students from Crow Agency, then Lodge Grass gathered last week in separate ceremonies where they graduated from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program. This 10-week program, the first on the Crow Reservation in possibly more than a decade, was designed in 1983 to prevent the use of drugs, and reduce gang membership and violent behavior. For local elementary students, the focus was on bullying.
 
According to Lodge Grass Elementary Principal Melanie Ferguson, since starting DARE, she saw a “[50 percent] reduction in bullying incidents” referred to her office.
 
“We have worked together with the Crow Tribe and the DARE program, as well as the BIA, and incorporated the message, ‘Bullying is not a good choice in life,’” Ferguson said. “There are other choices that bring positive results.”
 
Further lessons – taught in bite-sized, 20 minute segments by School Resource Officer Brandi Bends – included the topics of safety and anger management. 
 
To prepare for the course, Bends attended a two-week training program in Virginia. She drew upon more than seven years’ experience in the BIA – first as a juvenile corrections officer, then on the police force in Crow Agency.
 
“They’re my heart,” she said of her students. “They’re good kids and deserve only the best from us.”
 
Ferguson was impressed watching Bends’ teaching abilities as the students themselves moved from stand-offish to interested.
 
“I would have thought she was a trained educator,” Ferguson said. “That’s one of the big things that made it beneficial for us is she walked in, presented her lesson [and] they were engaged the whole time.
 
“They grew, they learned, they responded, their assessments turned out great – they actually knew what they had just been taught – we saw the benefits.”
 
ProCon.org – a site specializing in the pros and cons of controversial issues – cites studies with differing results in regards to the program’s effectiveness. 
 
For example, among other studies, a 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration concluded the Dare program reduces drug use among participants. In contrast, a 2004 meta-analysis of 11 peer review studies concluded students who graduate from DARE “are indistinguishable from students who do not participate in the program.”
 
Though scientific reactions may be mixed, BIA Chief of Police Jose Figueroa – who was also involved in the program “years ago” – believes it helps participants connect with law enforcement. 
 
Young students who used to see the police as a monolithic entity that arrested their families or appeared when something bad happened, according to Figueroa and Bends, now wave at officers on the street and hug the ones they know.
 
“Right now, because law enforcement is so short-staffed here, we’re always reactive to situations. There’s never much proactiveness,” Figueroa said. “This is a tool we use to make contact with the kids and let them know, ‘The police are your friends.’”
 
He was especially moved by a Crow Agency student’s expression of gratitude, where she wanted to sing what he believed to be an “honor song.” According to Figueroa, the student was an unexpectedly good singer.
 
“It brought Brandi to tears,” he said, “and almost did [the same] to me.”
 
For more information on the DARE program, visit www.dare.com.
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