ROSSVILLE — Things have changed during the years for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program at Rossville-Alvin Grade School. The students have changed, even the curriculum has changed.
The one thing that hadn’t changed was the teacher: Vermilion County Sheriff’s Department Deputy David Harrold.
Now that’s about to change.
Harrold, after 25 years as a D.A.R.E. officer and almost 30 as a county deputy, took part in his last D.A.R.E. graduation Wednesday afternoon. He became a little choked up at the beginning of the event, noting this was his last after so many years.
“This was a big part of my life,” he said Wednesday morning.” “I wanted to end my career going it one last time.”
Harrold officially retired as of today.
After a quarter of a century of offering lessons to fifth- and sixth-graders at the school, Harrold said he has learned a lot from the students. He hopes they’ve learned something from him.
“There’s been a lot of surveys saying D.A.R.E. doesn’t work,” he said. “But it does work. I know in this particular because I’m teaching kids whose parents I’ve had before.”
For 17 weeks each school year, Harrold stood before the fifth- and sixth-grade students and spoke about a variety of subjects. Many dealt with drug, alcohol and tobacco use and the resulting consequences. But he points out the topics also ranged from life skills and self-esteem to bullying and violence. D.A.R.E. began in 1983 through the cooperation of the Loa Angeles Police Department and the city’s schools.
It since has grown nationwide, with support from corporations, foundations and governmental agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice.
While he’s been the continuous influence, the curriculum has changed in 25 years. He’s seen four major changes in the D.A.R.E. curriculum, with the latest bringing the lessons back full circle to what he was using at the beginning.
“They keep tweaking, trying to adopt it to the need and time frame and the changing use of drugs and alcohol,” he said. “At one point, they took out some lessons and they found there was an increase in drug participation among youth.”
As the lessons have changed, so have the students and their knowledge. Harrold said today’s kids are different than past classes.
“They seem to be a little more street-wise now,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, the big thing was pot. Now, they’re street wise as to cocaine and meth.”
Street-wise, however, doesn’t translate into knowledge. Harrold said the kids are aware of the drugs. He fills in the blanks for them, talking about the dangers and health risks involved with each.
“At this age, they’re still receptive,” he said. “They’re still little sponges that want to learn. They want to impress you. They want you to like them.”
Meshing with the students is never an issue for Harrold, who admits he becomes attached to the students during the course of 17 weeks. As years have passed, Harrold said his wife began to refer to each class as “his kids.”
Lessons, however, extend beyond the D.A.R.E. curriculum at times for Harrold. As the year progresses, he gets to know the kids and can tell when something is bothering them.
“I’ve seen some of the hardships that people don’t’ realize the kids are going through,” he said. “They do confide in you and they know they can confide in you.”
Home problems are among the issues, Harrold said, adding he talks to the kids about how to deal with it.
He even admits he’s learned from the kids over the years, especially with the lingo changing from generation to generation. There are other lessons, too.
“They teach you patience, sometime they try your patience,” he said.
Harrold called Wednesday’s D.A.R.E. graduation a “bittersweet” moment.
“It’s sad, almost like when send your own kids off to college so to speak,” he said. “You know you’re not going to see them again.
But it’s a welcome sight when one of his D.A.R.E. kids approaches him at a store or in a restaurant to say hello.
“That lets me know I’ve made a difference in their life and they do remember me,” he said.
While Harrold is stepping down as deputy and as the Rossville-Alvin D.A.R.E. officer, the program is not being canceled. Harrold said someone else will be selected to take his place.
The department has one full-time D.A.R.E. officer, Deputy Jay Miller, and two part-time D.A.R.E. officers.
In addition, Harrold said Sheriff Pat Hartshorn has approached other deputies about being trained as certified D.A.R.E. officers.