D.A.R.E. celebrates 25 years in La Crosse schools

More than 11,000 students have graduated from program since 1990

Thursday was the 25th anniversary of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program being taught in La Crosse Schools.

In 1989, three La Crosse police officers traveled to Los Angeles, where the program was developed, to learn how to teach the D.A.R.E. program. In 1990, La Crosse became the first city in Wisconsin participating in the program.

Since then, more than 11,000 fifth graders have graduated from the program, and on Thursday a few dozen more accepted their D.A.R.E. diplomas.

D.A.R.E. is in more than 70 percent of our nation’s schools and in 53 other countries around the world.

In the 31-year history of the program, the curriculum has changed a few times, but the goal has stayed the same: Keep kids off drugs.

On Thursday at Northside Elementary School in La Crosse, it was a day of celebration because 42 fifth graders graduated from the D.A.R.E. program.

“I never knew that there was so many harmful chemicals in cigarettes, and I never knew how harmful each one of those things can be,” fifth grader Mercedes Krans said.

“It was a good experience to learn how to resist drugs and what to do if you have peer pressure,” fifth grader Dade Cogburn said.

La Crosse Police Officer Kurt Weaver, who teaches the D.A.R.E. program in eight La Crosse schools, said since the program was developed in the early 80s, the curriculum has changed quite a bit.

“We’re now on a brand new curriculum just released in 2013 that’s evidence-based and scientifically researched and state-of-the-art. It’s the Cadillac of prevention programming that we’re doing,” Weaver said.

Weaver said the old method was lecturing kids about the dangers of drugs, hoping that would scare students enough to want to steer clear of them. The new model talks less about drugs and more about handling peer pressure.

“We talk about good communication, decision-making, how to handle stress, how to handle bullies, all the stresses that they’re going to feel in the upcoming years, how can they handle it. Because that will give them the tools they need then to resist pressures to do negative things,” Weaver said.

Weaver said negative images on TV, in the community and in the media can have a harmful influence on kids, which is why it is important for these kids to have the D.A.R.E. program at a young age.

“We’re trying to be a positive influence, give them the tools they need that they can maybe recognize when something is bad. Just because a friend is maybe telling them to do it doesn’t mean it’s the right choice,” Weaver said.

There are some districts around the country and in our area that have cut the D.A.R.E. program due to funding. Besides the officers’ salaries the La Crosse program is fully funded by donations, fundraisers and grants.

Being the first in Wisconsin to offer D.A.R.E. has also helped the La Crosse Police Department become nationally recognized for its prevention programming.

Weaver goes to eight La Crosse Elementary Schools each week. He meets with kids as young as kindergarten-age as part of the program. He said this year, 350 kids will graduate from the D.A.R.E. program district-wide.