By: Sheila Crowley
Murray County News Staffwriter
Tom Whitehead was just a little over a year into his law enforcement career when he was asked to be the D.A.R.E. instructor in Slayton.
Rob Veldkamp, Murray County Sheriff’s Department, had been instructing, however, he had taken a different position. So instead of letting the program go by the wayside, Whitehead stepped in. He attended a very intense two-week training course in the Twin Cities.
Millions of school children around the world benefit from D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), the highly acclaimed program gives kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence.
D.A.R.E. is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teach children to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives. Although there is a curriculum available from kindergarten through 12th grade, fifth grade at Murray County Central is the age level local students learn about D.A.R.E.
The idea behind D.A.R.E. is to put a local, ‘human face’ on drug prevention in schools. When asked if he was intimidated regarding standing in front a classroom of fifth-grade students, White commented, “My wife is an educator and I love talking so it didn’t really phase me. However, I developed a great appreciation for teachers and realized it’s a position I could never do.”
Since its inception in 1983 D.A.R.E. has changed tremendously. Initially, the program’s curriculum was basically to instruct students on the dangers involved in using drugs and alcohol. It was more non-interactive than interactive. While the discussion was encouraged, the prevailing approach in the original curriculum involved the D.A.R.E. officer teaching each lesson. “With the D.A.R.E. program,” said Whitehead, “it gives kids a positive experience with a police officer.” Because of the longevity of his service to the program, Whitehead figures he’s taught approximately 1600 students about D.A.R.E. He shared a story of coming upon an accident while on the way to Whitehead’s hometown. As he approached the individuals involved, one of them immediately recognized him as their D.A.R.E. instructor.
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