DARE -- Wheeling Chapter

Anchor IPSN March, 1991

Wheeling’s DARE Program Aims
To Stop Drug Use Before It Starts.

Wheeling Police Department Youth Officer Chris Parr strides purposefully into that North Suburban community’s Walt Whitman Elementary School. She carries a colorful poster for this day’s classroom sessions that graphically illustrate the consequences of using or not using drugs. The kids wave to her, flock around her, shout, cheer and generally make a boisterous production of her presence as she heads toward her first classroom presentation of the day.

Chris Parr, a CCPA member and working police officer for the past four years, heads up the Wheeling DARE program which, in just its second semester, is proving to be a major success.

DARE – for Drug Abuse Resistance Education – was developed by Los Angeles police and school system professionals in the mid-‘80s. Unlike Nancy Reagan’s simplistic “Just Say No” campaign, which got its start at about the same time, the DARE program is structured to help kids understand that they can lead full, rich lives without drugs. The program also helps youthful students develop self esteem, helps strengthen decision-making processes and helps them build a solid foundation of resistance to any peer pressure that promotes drug use.

The DARE program is also a major departure from the kinds of overblown scare tactics that were widely used in this country’s school systems in the ‘40s and ‘50s and which, because they conveyed such blatantly false images of drug users, inadvertently helped spawn the drug culture of the ‘60s.

Under the DARE program, Officer Parr and her counterparts around the country present a comprehensive 17-week educational experience to fifth and sixth graders in both public and parochial schools. In Wheeling, Parr is personally responsible for carrying the program to students at the Eugene Field and St. Joseph’s elementary schools, in addition to the Whitman school.

DARE officers like Chris Parr also teach a companion program, varying in subject matter and complexity, to children from the kindergarten through fourth-grade levels. This year, Officer Parr will have personal, extended and obviously very significant contact with some 1,500 students in Wheeling schools.

Parr’s first group of some 150 DARE students—the Fall, 1990 class—topped off the program with a festive graduation ceremony marked by the awarding of colorful T-shirts donated by the Combined Counties Police Association.

With this kind of early, positive and sustained contact between kinds and uniformed police, it becomes a pretty good bet that demand for drugs will decrease over time. Also, the more kids get to know the Officer Parrs of the country, the more the “them and us,” the “occupying army,” attitudes about police can be expected to break down.

Chris Parr is the personification of a new breed of cop in this country who’s not afraid to use patience, education and understanding in her work. Her educational background includes a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri. She plans to start work on her Master’s later this year.

Long interested in police work, Parr spent five years as a radio operator with the Deerfield Police Department, before coming to Wheeling.

Parr’s formal training in the DARE program was an 80-hour course that she completed at the Illinois State Police Academy in Springfield. A true believer in the idea that more drug education means less drug use, Parr says, “We need to cover everybody. We can’t leave anybody out.”

On the nuts and bolts of the DARE program, Parr reports, “We teach them life skills. We teach them how to react. We teach them to know appropriate actions to take about drugs and, most importantly, we teach them not just to say no, but how to say no.”

Parr believes the DARE program offers grade school students a body of knowledge that they can use for the rest of their lives. “By simply knowing all the consequences -both good and bad – the DARE program will help kids make life decisions and it will help them enhance their own self esteem,” Parr says.

“We use role-playing techniques,” Parr says, “to help kids understand some of the influences that are at work on them, including the influences of their peers and the impact of the media, as well as their own emotional needs.”

“Years ago,” Parr says, “before the advent of two-paycheck families and before kids were routinely left for long periods without parental supervision, much of what we teach in the DARE program could have been learned informally at home. But now, in today’s society, there is a clear need for what we have to offer. But even as comprehensive as DARE is,” Chris Parr concludes, “it should not be a school system’s only approach to drug education. The schools themselves have lots of work to do.”

Whitman School sixth-grade teacher Judy Robison, who was a member of the Wheeling School District 21 committee that analyzed the community’s drug education needs, says her students have “responded very well” to the DARE program.

“I think the kids are very impressed with the presence of a real police officer in the classroom,” Robison says. “This program gives them a realistic understanding of what drugs are all about. It helps them to avoid making mistakes. It helps them to resist, to stand up to their peers who might be encouraging them to use drugs. Obviously, I’m all for it,” the Whitman teacher declares.