By Amy Fendley
Drug Abuse Resistance Education, DARE, was started in the late ’80s by former Los Angeles police chief, Daryl Gates.
Recently, the Whistler RCMP bought into the DARE program, paying for one member of the force to receive training to become Officer DARE.
Cst. Warren Tomalty, who heads crime prevention and community policing, was the chosen one and in early February was sent to Canadian Federal Base Borden in Ontario for two weeks of training.
The program’s mandate is to provide support, assistance and information to students in Grade 5 and 6, to try to keep them drug-free and healthy.
"This is the first group to get this course in Whistler," says Tomalty, who claims that DARE is one of the most exciting thing he’s ever done in his career. "It helps empower them to say no, and to develop the ability to reason out why not to."
In lesson number two, students get an idea of what the DARE program is all about — understanding the effects of mind-altering drugs.
Tomalty, points out to students that the use of illegal drugs is always abuse, and that even legal drugs can be abused to the point where their use is illegal. He also brings to the students’ attention that tobacco and alcohol, which are legal for adults, are illegal for people under 18, and therefore any use of these by the students amounts to drug abuse.
Tomalty has his own personal reasons behind his commitment to the program, being the father of three boys under five.
"When I first walked into the classroom today they started singing the DARE theme song and asking if they get to yell," he said. "It can be a lot more rewarding doing this than arresting a guy with a bag of marijuana."
However, Tomalty doesn’t think this should be just an RCMP responsibility.
"I’d like to see the community get involved and help sponsor the program, maybe through PAC," he says.
To help the kids familiarize themselves with the officer who instructs their program, "Cst. Warren" sets aside extra time during the week to play hockey with some of the students. The message, loud and clear, is respect. Interacting on a one on one basis makes it easier for the students to view Tomalty as a real person, rather than just an RCMP officer.
The pressures on youth continue to increase as "destructive influences seek to corrupt our young people," reads the mandate in DARE International’s annual publication.
DARE has two main jurisdictions, Canada and the United States. In the American student workbook, directed at children in Grades 5 and 6, Simpsons’ illustrator Chris Roman sketches two images: Claudia and Randy. Underneath the image, the text reads: Claudia likes a boy named Randy, who is in her class. Claudia thinks Randy likes her too because he smiles at her and is nice to her. One morning Randy asked her to hold a small handgun he brought to school. Claudia knows guns are not allowed at school, but she wants Randy to like her. What is the problem? What choices does Claudia have? What are the possible consequences of each choice? Which choice has better consequences? Which resistance technique (way to say no) would work best?
Although the idea of Whistler fifth graders toting Saturday Night Special’s may seem far fetched, the reality is that all young people are having to deal with the harsh circumstances society is breeding.
Tomalty has a response to the kid versus handgun issue in Whistler, as he attempts to instill into the students some street-wise smarts.
"We’ve had shootings in town," he says. "At some point these kids may be in Vancouver."
And students in Vancouver schools are no strangers to weapons of this calibre.
"The program does give the kids more power over themselves," says Janet Penny, a Grade 5 teacher at Myrtle Philip Community School. "It’s really hard for kids to say no. Some kids can decide for themselves, but others are undecided and are sitting on the fence on the issue. It’s good to have someone of authority, as well as parents and the community involved."
Carla Arnold, who is also a Grade 5 teacher at Myrtle Philip, is equally impressed with the program.
"It’s set up so well for this age group," she says. "The teaching style is interactive and uses diverse teaching methods such as books, role playing, group and solo activities and visuals. It’s really impressive to see the kids’ focused for a full hour on a subject they are interested about. Some kids haven’t formed and opinion on whether it’s cool or not to do drugs, so it’s good to get them now."
At graduation, June 12, the students who received DARE will make a presentation to the community and Tomalty, demonstrating what they’ve learned.
"The presentations are really amazing," says Tomalty. "I watched one presentation where the tears were flowing everywhere, as one student admitted he had an alcoholic father. His father was standing on stage next to him. Another student had lost four members of the family to drunk driving."