By Sarah Naron

Messenger Reporter

ELKHART – As National D.A.R.E. Day was celebrated Thursday, April 19 at elementary and middle schools across the country, the fifth-grade students of Elkhart Intermediate School were hard at work on essays detailing what they have learned throughout the course of their semester-long participation in the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.

Officer Pat Douthit-Green of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office is the designated D.A.R.E. officer for the county, responsible for traveling to four of the eight school districts to spread awareness of the dangers of drugs.

“We’re in the classes once a week; it’s a 45-minute lesson,” she explained. “They (the students) have a workbook, and it covers English, social studies, science, math – it’s all in there. That’s what’s real cool about the program, too.

“We’ve talked social studies – the social impact that drugs and violence has on our society,” Officer Green continued. “We’ve added some math – one pack of cigarettes a day, $5 a pack, how much money is that a week?”

Students also receive grades on their participation in the program, as well as the essays and other projects they complete.

A favorite lesson among the students included a “gross-out” video portraying the devastating effects of tobacco products.

“(It teaches you) that tobacco can chop up your fingers,” explained one student.

Officer Green added that the video provides information on how the mouths of tobacco users are damaged over time.

As Officer Green explained, D.A.R.E. officers are required to undergo strenuous training before being able to begin teaching the class.

“I’m not so sure that wasn’t some of my toughest training,” she said. “You have to be certified with D.A.R.E. America, and we go through two weeks (of training).”

Officer Green spoke of the challenge faced by officers teaching the program of adjusting to the new environment.

“We’re used to dealing with a different climate and a different environment of folks,” she pointed out. “And then, you come in a classroom. It’s a whole different environment, and so, you have to remember to back up a little bit. It’s so hard to switch to a different level of thinking.”

During their training, the officers are required to create sample lesson plans, Officer Green explained, and the course ends with testing their new skills on students in schools in their training area.

“My training was in Galveston, and the last Thursday and Friday, they took us to these schools in Galveston,” she recalled. “I walked into a class, and I almost just turned around and walked out. I went, ‘What have I got myself into?’”

Officer Green has 32 years of law enforcement experience and has been a D.A.R.E. officer since 2000.

“We’re typically good for five years,” she said of the officers teaching the classes. “The sheriff’s office didn’t really have anybody else to do it, so I’ve been doing it ever since.”

According to Officer Green, the program will conclude next month with a D.A.R.E. graduation ceremony at which the students receive a certificate of completion and a T-shirt.

“Also, the winner of the essay (contest) – girl and boy – are going to have bicycles that we give out to them,” Officer Green added.

“It works out really well,” she said of the program. “It helps them to make better choices, because the more information they have about this stuff and what it can do to the body – it’s already proven that it makes them stronger, and it’s more likely they’re going to say no. So, that’s what it’s all about.”