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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

New D.A.R.E. Officer: "This Is Valuable Instruction"

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, June 06, 2006

D.A.R.E. Instructor and North Adams police Officer Erik Thomas
North Adams - City police Officer Erik Thomas stood at the front of Brian Keller's morning sixth grade health class on June 6 wearing his police uniform and a smile. Students were in the midst of a Drug Awareness Resistance Education lesson-the next to the last of 10 scheduled classes - and were reviewing previous lessons completed in a D.A.R.E. workbook. A D.A.R.E. program completion ceremony is being planned and will likely occur next week.

First Class For D.A.R.E Officer Thomas

The ceremony may act as bit of a "graduation" for Thomas as well.

The current D.A.R.E. class marks Thomas' first as a certified D.A.R.E. instructor. He is replacing city police Officer John LeClair in that capacity and is the fifth city police officer to serve as a D.A.R.E. instructor.

"I love it," Thomas said during an interview conducted after the class had ended. "I love working with the kids. I believe this is valuable instruction."

The D.A.R.E. program has been taught to hundreds of city public school students over the past two decades. The first city police officer to work as a D.A.R.E. instructor was now retired Sgt. William Norcross, who was followed by Lt. David Sacco, former city police Officer Cliff Harris, and LeClair.

In January, Thomas attended an intensive New Hampshire-based D.A.R.E. instruction training session and earned certification as a program instructor. Thomas was sworn in as a full-time city police officer in December 2005 after spending a year as a city reserve police officer.

R.O.P.E.S

The students show a strong interest in the curriculum, Thomas said. Most of the group participate in discussions and complete the required assignments, he said.

"They really do have a lot of good questions," he said.

During the 1990s, D.A.R.E. classroom education was often reinforced via D.A.R.E summer camps, but state funding for the ventures was eliminated in 2001. Northern Berkshire law enforcement officers opted against termination of camp sessions and turned to five-day sessions titled "Respecting Other People Encouraging Self-esteem," or R.O.P.E.S camps. The camp is open to current year D.A.R.E. classroom program graduates from Northern Berkshire communities and hosts sessions in July and August.

The camp brings law enforcement officers, teachers, teen-aged mentors, and youth aged 10-12 years old together for skill-building,communication, and trust exercises. Physical "challenges" are part of the program, which is hosted at Windsor Lake.

This year, R.O.P.E.S sessions are scheduled to be held July 17-21 and Aug. 7-11.

The benefits of D.A.R.E. programs have been questioned during recent years and there are school districts across the country that have removed the curriculum from classrooms. Thomas said that he believes the program has significant benefits that go beyond the curriculum.

"To be able to develop a rapport with the kids that will continue through the future, that can't be a bad thing," he said. "To be proactive instead of reactive is well worth it."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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