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DARE to be different: Program sets students on own path

Sgt. Zeyna Jimenez, 6th MP Detachment and DARE officer, poses with DARE graduates after a ceremony in 2012. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Sgt. Zeyna Jimenez, 6th MP Detachment and DARE officer, poses with DARE graduates after a ceremony in 2012. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: April 21, 2016

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 21, 2016) -- Children are faced with countless choices throughout their childhood, but there are some choices that can impact their life more than others.

That’s why the Fort Rucker Elementary School Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program is looking to make sure its students are prepared when it comes to saying no to not only drugs, but alcohol, smoking and peer pressure, as well.

Each year, FRES fifth grade students get the chance to go through the eight-week long DARE program where they learn about drugs, alcohol, smoking and the way they affect their body, according to Sgt. Zeyna Jimenez, 6th Military Police Detachment and DARE officer.

Throughout the program, the children are given scenarios by Jimenez during which they must work together in groups to come up with answers and solutions to the scenario.

“It’s what we call the decision-making model,” she said. “They pretty much have to define the problem and come up with a response. Then they give an explanation as to how and why they came up with that response.”

One of the best ways for children to learn is to come up with their own solutions, said the DARE officer, and having them work in groups to come up with a response is also a great way to combat peer pressure, which is one main ways children find themselves in situations to try drugs or alcohol.

“One of the ways we combat that is by giving the children facts about what alcohol, drugs and smoking does to their body and how it can impact their growth (and development),” said Jimenez. “If they know what it will do to them, then they might be less likely to try it.”

The content of the lessons is just as important as who the lessons come from, she added.

“These students see their parents and teachers every day, but us (DARE officers and law enforcement) they don’t see all the time,” said the DARE officer. “I’m here to specifically teach them about DARE, so that’s the kind of relationship we build.”

Jimenez said her main focus is to educate the children, and a key to getting that education to stick is by building a lasting relationship with them.

She went through the DARE program herself, and said she loves working with children, which led her to get involved in the DARE program at FRES.

“I remember taking DARE in elementary school back in the day and I got along with my DARE officer pretty well,” she said. “He was a really nice person and he gave us a lot of information, so it’s something that I really enjoy getting to do – going to the school and getting the chance to interact with them.”

That connection and interaction is crucial to the learning process, she said, and it’s important for the students to understand that law enforcement is there to help them.

“I just try to connect with them,” she said. “Some of the children don’t like talking much, so I try to interact with them to get them to talk a little or read just to get them to open up. They need to know that they can come up to a police officer or anybody if they need help. I want them to be able to ask for help if they need it.

“I want the children to know that they have options and that they don’t have to give into peer pressure,” she said. “I want to make sure they know what drugs and alcohol can do to their bodies, so they know all of the information before they make a decision. I don’t want these children to go down the wrong path just because their friends are doing it. Just because their friends are doing it doesn’t mean that they have to be doing it, too.”

The students will graduate the DARE program at the end of May, during which there will be a ceremony held at the school and each child will receive a certificate of completion, she said. Students will also get the chance to participate in an essay contest about what they learned throughout the program, with the winning essay to be announced during the graduation.

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