Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) has long been known as a program in which law enforcement help educate students about the dangers of drug use and how to avoid them.
However, as Montevideo Police Officer Nick Gunderson recently discovered, the program has taken new steps forward in addressing other issues that youth today face.
When Montevideo Police Chief Adam Christopher asked his officers who was interested in receiving training to teach DARE classes at the Montevideo schools, Gunderson was one of those who stepped forward and was ultimately selected to head to Minneapolis for a two-week training period.
Classes went from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. five days a week for two weeks, along with two to three hours of homework each night.
"It was a little like going back to school," Gunderson said. "I remember DARE from when I was growing up. It was all about drugs and alcohol. Well, now it's about that, too, but it's also about kids making the right decisions when it comes to bullies and peer pressure.
"The theme is using decision making skills to help with different problems," Gunderson said. "In that case ... DARE stands for define, assess, respond, evaluate."
DARE teaches students to define a problem or a challenge; assess the choices they could make and their possible consequence, both positive and negative; make a decision and decide why they are making it; and evaluate if it was a wise decision.
To learn how to teach these lessons, the officers receiving the training broke up into smaller groups with a mentor, who assigned them lessons and helped them plan and present a 15-minute lesson, a 25-minute lesson and, finally, a 45-minute lesson, which is the standard length of a DARE lesson in the classroom. The final 45-minute practice lesson functioned as a test.
Following that, Gunderson practiced by teaming up with an existing DARE officer and giving a lesson in West St. Paul.
When Gunderson graduated, Christopher traveled to Minneapolis to support and congratulate him and, just this week, starting on Monday, Gunderson gave his first lesson at the Montevideo Middle School.
"The biggest value I see in all of this is the interaction between kids and a police officer in a positive setting," Gunderson said. "It's good to have a situation where it's not 'Oh, great, the cops are here.'
"The lessons are important, too. These are real life things that fifth-graders see. That's why part of the program is called 'Keeping it Real' because these are real situations."
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