By Chad Koenen
Bobby Berndt isn’t shy about sharing the positive messages the DARE program provides elementary students. The New York Mills Police Chief is in his second year teaching the program at the local school and views the program as much more than just alcohol and drug prevention.
As he speaks to sixth grade students at NY Mills School, Berndt smiles behind his mask as he shares real life stories about what the students may face when they get older. While some people have said the DARE program may have run its course with today’s youth, Berndt has a different take. He said the program can not only make a difference in the lives of children today, but can provide them the building blocks they will need for years to come.
“I share examples of everyday life. Where I use this myself and other sixth graders across America that use these lessons to make decisions,” he said.”It does work. Maybe I am just a believer in it and I wouldn’t teach it if I didn’t believe in it.”
The DARE program has changed quite a bit over the years. The program originally started with a focus on informing young students about the dangers of drug and alcohol use, but today is focused on everything from making positive decisions to dealing with stress.
Today’s DARE program features 10 lessons that focuses on peer pressure, responsibilities, bullying, identifying a problem and making positive decisions to deal with them. Just one of the 10 lessons actually deals with drug and alcohol.
“The initial program was just about drugs and alcohol and they found it to be ineffective. Now they have revamped it,” said Berndt. “Different ways to show them to make better decisions and be more responsible as they grow older. Find a problem, look at the options and respond to it.”
Another positive part of the program is the weekly materials the sixth grade students bring home to their family. Each week students can bring home materials to their parents that highlights what they learned in DARE, as well as an introduction to what the students will be learning about the next week.
Following the 10 weeks of lessons, students can write an essay and even have a graduation program. Last year’s graduation program was canceled due to COVID-19, but Berndt is optimistic that this year’s graduation will take place later this spring.
In all, the new police chief said he enjoys the opportunity to teach the DARE program to students and enjoys helping the students to make positive decisions and learn lessons that will help them for the rest of their lives.
“It’s a new person teaching it to them. They are excited about an officer coming in and talking about everyday decisions,” said Berndt. “I just love seeing the desire to learn and the classroom participation and just being with the students and getting to know those students better. I do believe they will benefit for years to come as they get to know the officers in their community.”