DARE program eliminated at middle school | AspenTimes.com

DARE program eliminated at middle school

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

DARE, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education curriculum that has been a part of Aspen Middle School for over a decade, has been canceled.

According to officials with the Aspen Police Department, the program will be replaced with curriculum prepared by Valley Partnership For Drug Prevention. However, Bessie Harper, of Valley Partnership, said she could not discuss the plans for next school year, and referred all comments to Aspen Middle School Principal Phyllis Wannemacher.

Wannemacher is on vacation until the middle of next week, as is school superintendent Tom Farrell.

But Pitkin County Juvenile Investigator Bruce Benjamin, who has been an instructor with the DARE program for the past nine years, said former Aspen Middle School principal Griff Smith told him about the change at the end of the last school year.

“I haven’t seen what the program will be replaced with yet, so I don’t have an opinion about if it will be more effective,” he said. “But we’ve taught DARE all these years because we felt it was an important educational component for the fifth grade.”

Benjamin estimated that the program has been offered in the district for 14 years. Fifth-graders at the middle school undergo the 17-week course, once a week, with an officer from the Aspen Police Department, or a deputy from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

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“It’s a program that teaches kids the danger of drugs, alcohol and violence,” Benjamin said. “Violence has been more asserted in the past five years, and decision-making skills are heavily reviewed with the kids.”

Benjamin said he teaches kids in individual classes how to say no to an offer of drugs, the “consequences of taking drugs,” and a lesson on street gangs. He said over the past nine years he thinks the kids he’s taught have gotten “a lot out of it.”

“I think the big advantage is bringing someone in the classroom, other than another teacher, who has experience with drugs and addiction, and can lend firsthand knowledge,” he said. “We’re hoping to participate and lend our experience to whatever program the middle school decides best suits the kids.”