D.A.R.E. program updates its curriculum - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

D.A.R.E. program updates its curriculum

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Law enforcement officers from throughout the state are meeting in eastern Iowa to improve the D.A.R.E. -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- program many people nationwide have gone through.

This week marks Iowa's annual D.A.R.E. conference. It runs Sunday through Tuesday at downtown Dubuque's Holiday Inn.

More than 100 Iowa law enforcement officers are gathered to learn the specifics of D.A.R.E.'s new elementary school-level curriculum.

D.A.R.E. has gone through more than a dozen major changes since its inception in 1983. Starting this fall, another change will be implemented. The new elementary school curriculum will be a new version of the current middle school curriculum called Keep it REAL. REAL is an acronym for drug resistance strategies: Refuse, Explain, Avoid, Leave. It's a program steeped in decision-making skills and multimedia.

Dubuque police officer Danielle Basten was one of the many law enforcement officers in a D.A.R.E. seminar Monday afternoon. She teaches D.A.R.E. for Dubuque middle schoolers and went through the program herself as a Dubuque student.

"I'm probably a generation that had D.A.R.E. while we were in the classroom, and while I progressed through my career it was something I became involved in as well," Basten said.

Shane O'Brien was the officer who taught Basten the D.A.R.E. program. Both he and she now teach Dubuque students. O'Brien is also the president of the Iowa D.A.R.E. association and said the program changes to fit the times.

"As culture changes: tennis shoes, dress, hair styles, the program might get stale, so we try to keep it new and refreshing," O'Brien said.

D.A.R.E. has programs at the elementary, middle and high school levels, and community law enforcement agencies determine which, if any, fits their needs.

The D.A.R.E. program's latest update is adapting the current middle school program, Keepin' it REAL, for fifth and sixth graders.

"The big program in D.A.R.E. is its core, it's the 5th and 6th grade kids that they really target," D.A.R.E. educator for the state of Iowa John Sheahan said.

The program no longer focuses so heavily on avoiding substance abuse.

"It does touch upon alcohol and tobacco, but it really zeroes in on how to deal with things like peer pressure, how to deal with bullying," Sheahan said.

The new program has adapted to a tech-savvy generation of students.

"The new Keepin' it REAL has taken videos, kind of put it into animation that fifth graders can really buy into and it gives them something to look forward to, and then they always end the lesson with a video," Sheahan said.

"The kids seem to love having us in the classroom," Basten said. "We've had great opportunities to make contact with them in the school and then run into them outside, while I'm working, and they're just so much more respectful and polite."

That student-officer interaction has remained consistent throughout D.A.R.E.'s changes over the years.

Where D.A.R.E. is taught at the elementary school-level in Iowa, those students will see the new Keepin' it REAL program starting this fall.

According to D.A.R.E.'s Website, the program is in 75 percent of school districts in the US, plus it has a presence in 43 countries.

The three-day conference in Dubuque ends Tuesday.

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