D.A.R.E. moves to middle school

D.A.R.E. moves to middle school

Classes for 6th-graders include bullying, online safety

CUMBERLAND - For 20 years it's been a rite of passage for 5th-graders.

But starting this year, the Police Department's D.A.R.E. program is taking its lessons to the 6th grade, with a stepped up curriculum that Resource Officer Robert Fay says is needed by the new middle-schoolers.

"I don't care if they're urban or suburban, kids are exposed to a great deal," says Fay, a teacher-turned-police officer who's taught the D.A.R.E. curriculum for six years.

Although just one year older, the 6th-graders, he says, are facing greater pressures as they're pulled away from the familiar haven of neighborhood elementary schools.

"It's a huge change," says Fay. "Going to middle school, some of them hook up with kids they don't know and just go down the wrong path."

This program started 20 years ago in Cumberland to emphasize the dangers of drugs and alcohol, now addresses bullying as its number one priority, Fay told The Breeze.

The once-a-week, 55-minute sessions also include discussions about dealing with house parties where drinking is involved, the dangers of texting while driving, assertiveness training, and a technique for decision-making in the face of peer pressure.

There's a general emphasis, says Fay, on what he calls "tech safety" that covers Facebook and Twitter bullying as well as socializing online with strangers.

Fay, who's also a youth sports coach, spends much of his day in the two middle schools, says his program reinforces the new bullying policies of the school district. He works closely with McCourt Principal Jay Masterson, author of the district's strict procedures for reporting and managing of bullying situations.

Alcohol and drug abuse and peer pressure are all topics covered by what's usually a 12-week program. This transition year, the 6th-graders will see 10 weeks because they were in the program last year.

The program started this week at McCourt Middle School but will take time off for the NECAP exam sessions. It moves to North Cumberland Middle School in January.

D.A.R.E. is a national program, originally founded as Drug And Alcohol Resistance Education. At its heart, it offers the chance for students to interact with police officers in a friendly manner rather than on the street in connection with a crime.

Police Chief John Desmarais, who brought strong support for community policing and working with youth when he came to Cumberland eight years ago, has a message for parents and teens about house parties.

He's urging students whose parties get suddenly mobbed by uninvited guests to call the Police Department for assistance.

"Don't wait until 11 or 12 o'clock when things are out of control," he says.

And he's warning parents that they will be held accountable. "Expect a phone call," he advises parents of youths caught at a party that includes alcohol. Rather than simply sent home, the youths will be detained until parents turn up to escort them.

Fay and Desmarais say they're available to PTO groups at any of the schools. Reach the police station at 401-333-2500.