Mark Spicer and his stuffed animal Daren drew quite a crowd at Magnolia Park Elementary School's health fair. Spicer explained to the fourth graders that "our lesson with DARE and Daren is not to do drugs at all."
Normally Spicer isn't with kids this young. He's usually at Taconi School teaching the DARE drug prevention program to fifth graders. "If it's taught properly," Spicer said, "we're teaching them this is how you say no. We don't tell them what drugs are, but just how you say no."
Does DARE's anti drug message work? Two Ocean Springs students who went through the program in 1999 told me it's one of the reasons they won't get involved with drugs. Katie Griffin said quite simply she just wouldn't do drugs. Fellow seventh grader Tracie Flavian said, "I wouldn't want to do it. I would be probably too afraid, just totally afraid that something bad would happen to me or I would get caught or something like that."
The people who created DARE almost 20 years ago now admit it's not as effective as it could be. So the national organizers are going to change the program. They'll focus it on junior high school students. And they'll involve more role playing.
How that impacts DARE officers like Mark Spicer isn't known yet. So he's just going to keep doing what he's been doing for three years. He's going to teach kids to say no to drugs.
Researchers at the University of Akron are responsible for the changes that will be made to the DARE program. They'll focus the new curriculum on seventh and ninth graders.