A program that’s reached thousands of children across the country is now celebrating a milestone in Orchard Park. D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) has been taught in OP schools for 25 years now.
When you walk into Officer Kristen Mazur’s office, in the Orchard Park Police Department, you’ll see her situated between dozens of cards, letters and posters. “Thank you for the change in my life,” reads one of those notes. There is very little untouched space on her walls.
“People call police officers when they’re having a bad day, or when something is wrong, so to build these relationships with these students is huge,” she said.
Officer Mazur is in charge of teaching D.A.R.E. to fifth graders at seven elementary schools in Orchard Park.
“On the average, I do 12 to 14 classes per week.”
In New York State, more than 70 police agencies teach D.A.R.E. In Erie County, four agencies have the program: the City of Tonawanda, Town of Tonawanda, Orchard Park and West Seneca.
In Orchard Park, the program started 25 years ago, but it’s changed quite a bit since 1993.
In the early 2000s, studies were coming out questioning the effectiveness of D.A.R.E. According to a recent report, funding decreased significantly after that. In 2002, D.A.R.E had an annual budge of $10 million, but decreased to $3.5 million a decade later.
In 2009, the curriculum changed dramatically.
“It’s a whole new program,” Officer Mazur. said. “It’s not the D.A.R.E. that I took in elementary school.”
In the beginning years of the program, D.A.R.E revolved around the motto, ‘Just Say No.’ That’s no longer used. The program now includes more evidence-based research.
“We talk about why it’s so important to say no, and the different ways to say no, but we also talk about character building and hanging around with good people and making sure you’re making good choices, and you’re confident in yourself, and making sure they make good choices in everything they do.”
And Officer Mazur said she’s seen that this program really works.
“We have high school students who come in and talk to our elementary students, and they talk about how they went through these problems, they were in these situations, and they were able to be safe and say ‘no,’ and make good choices, she said.” They’re in high school now and very successful, and they’re looking forward to a successful future. That’s how I know.”