Fifth-graders fill out D.A.R.E. workbooks during a lesson at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Fifth-graders fill out D.A.R.E. workbooks during a lesson at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

‘Just say no,’ no more

D.A.R.E. — the ubiquitous anti-drug campaign of the 1980s and 1990s — has come a long way since the days of “just say no.”

Launched in 1983 to explicitly tackle illegal drug use with a strict focus on the negative consequences of substance abuse, the D.A.R.E. program now focuses on developing life skills and giving kids the tools to make responsible decisions.

“The whole goal is to educate them to resist using drugs,” Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan said. “But the way that they do that is not through scare tactics, but through life skills.”

Brennan, who teaches D.A.R.E. courses to about 150 fifth graders at Soldotna, Redoubt and Kalifornsky Beach elementary schools, said that although D.A.R.E. still officially stands for “drug abuse resistance education,” the acronym is now used to describe a different set of priorities: “define, assess, respond, evaluate.”

A new approach

No longer are classes built around directives from instructors — instead students are encouraged to work together on exercises that emphasize core concepts. Students answer questions in a “keeping’ it REAL” workbook that covers a number of decision-making tools, including communication styles, identifying risky situations, responding to pressure, bullying, stress and making responsible choices.

Brennan, who has been giving the course for seven years, said when he first began teaching the program, the curriculum included two days on alcohol and tobacco abuse with an optional lesson on bullying.

Now, the substance abuse lesson has been winnowed to one day, and bullying is a core component of the curriculum.

Brennan said the two key messages he hopes kids will take away from the course is an ability to work through decisions they’ve made — so they can better understand the consequences of their actions — and to be comfortable around police.

“I don’t want them to be scared of police,” he said.

Building life skills

At Soldotna Elementary School Wednesday, kids sat in pods during an hour-long course discussing “help networks.”

Brennan prompted students to identify times they needed and asked for help, and who provided the help. Students eagerly piped up to answer Brennan’s questions — sharing times someone offered them a pencil, helped them retrieve lost candy or provided help with a book report.

Kids then broke into teams and competed to identify glossary terms they had learned during the program. The session ended with students watching a video about Alaska teenagers, who described how they use D.A.R.E. skills to make better life choices.

As Brennan wrapped up the last class of the year, he left students with a final thought: “It’s up to you to make the right decision.”

The D.A.R.E. course will be capped off with a graduation ceremony Friday — the highlight of which will be the announcement of a grand-prize essay contest winner, who gets to take home a new mountain bike and “Daren,” a decorated stuffed lion that has been keeping Brennan company in his patrol car throughout this year’s D.A.R.E. course.

The ceremony will be followed by a student “lock-in” — an overnight slumber party that doubles as a fundraiser for the Soldotna High School swim team.

Reach Erin Thompson at ethompson@peninsulaclarion.com.

A student fills out a D.A.R.E. workbook during a lesson at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

A student fills out a D.A.R.E. workbook during a lesson at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan discusses a D.A.R.E. lesson on “help networks” with fifth-grade students at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan discusses a D.A.R.E. lesson on “help networks” with fifth-grade students at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Students participate in a D.A.R.E. course at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Students participate in a D.A.R.E. course at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan discusses a lesson with a student during a D.A.R.E. class at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 18. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan discusses a lesson with a student during a D.A.R.E. class at Soldotna Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 18. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan quizzes fifth-graders on D.A.R.E. glossary terms during a lesson at Soldotna Elementary School on Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan quizzes fifth-graders on D.A.R.E. glossary terms during a lesson at Soldotna Elementary School on Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Elementary School students participate in a D.A.R.E. lesson on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Elementary School students participate in a D.A.R.E. lesson on Wednesday, Feb. 28. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan shows off “Daren,” a stuffed lion who has been decorated by students throughout a 10-week D.A.R.E. course on Wednesday, Feb. 28. The winner of a D.A.R.E. essay contest will be awarded a new mountain bike and the stuffed animal at a graduation ceremony on Friday, March 2. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna Police Officer Tobin Brennan shows off “Daren,” a stuffed lion who has been decorated by students throughout a 10-week D.A.R.E. course on Wednesday, Feb. 28. The winner of a D.A.R.E. essay contest will be awarded a new mountain bike and the stuffed animal at a graduation ceremony on Friday, March 2. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

Courtesy photo / Juneau Raptor Center
This golden eagle was rescued by the Juneau Raptor Center over the summer after being found weak and thin.
Rescue center, birdwatchers look back on 2021

Juneau Christmas bird count was way down this year.

This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (NICT via AP)
Tsunami advisory issued after eruption

An undersea volcano erupted Friday near the South Pacific island of Tonga, triggering concerns of damaging waves across Pacific coastlines

Flowers bloom at Soldotna City Hall on Wednesday, June 24, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Multiple public works projects underway in Soldotna

Soldotna City Council received an update on eight different projects

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Hospitalizations rise as state reports increase in COVID cases

There were a total of 112 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Friday

Terri Carter’s class celebrates the National Blue Ribbon award after their assembly at Soldotna Montessori Charter School on Friday, Jan 14, 2022. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
A ‘pathway to a brighter and fulfilling future’

Soldotna Montessori Charter School celebrates national achievement

Homer City Council member Rachel Lord discusses her concerns with funding the Alaska Small Business Development Center Homer Business Advisory position during the Jan. 10 council meeting. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Council says ‘yes to small businesses’

Homer City Council votes 4-2 in favor of partially funding the Homer Business Advisory position.

AP Photo / Becky Bohrer
Sightseeing buses and tourists are seen at a pullout popular for taking in views of North America’s tallest peak, Denali, in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, on Aug. 26, 2016.
Bridge proposed along section of slumping Denali park road

Landslides in the area go back decades but usually required maintenance every two to three years

A sign directs voters at Soldotna City Hall on March 5, 2019. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Locals to join national voting rights march Saturday

The march in Soldotna is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action

Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna approves $32,000 federal grant for airport

The funds were made available through the American Rescue Plan Act for improvement projects at the Soldotna Municipal Airport

Most Read