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March 12, 2004

New version of old DARE Naperville schools weigh new program
By Beth Sneller
Daily Herald Staff Writer

A community coalition may have found an anti-drug effort to replace DARE in Naperville schools by next fall.

Supporters say the program, Too Good for Drugs, focuses on making healthy choices and building character.

It uses "social norms marketing" to stress to students how few of their classmates use drugs and alcohol and encourages youngsters to interact with parents through homework assignments.

Representatives from Naperville schools, drug prevention groups and the police have been meeting since November to find an alternative to the long-running but increasingly controversial Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

Naperville police officers have brought the DARE curriculum to fifth-graders since 1993. But criticism the program is outdated and doesn't really work have taken their toll, Sgt. Mark Ksiazek said.

"We were defending it on a regular basis," he said Thursday. "It's a wonderful program, but it didn't keep up with the times."

Even the state dropped funding for DARE at the beginning of the 2003-04 school year.

Police Chief David Dial asked Ksiazek to form a committee to research other options.

The panel includes representatives from Naperville Unit District 203, Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Breaking Free, NCO Youth & Family Services and Ss. Peter and Paul School.

Members said the curriculum should be scientifically valid, cost-effective, meet state and federal standards, and include character-building activities.

There also has to be some method of measuring how effective it is, members said.

"There are a lot of programs out there," Ksiazek said. "But we were specifically looking for one that met these criteria - and there weren't many."

The committee came upon Too Good for Drugs, which has been named a model program by the U.S. Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration.

"It has been scientifically researched and has been shown to have positive outcomes in many different settings," said Shari Johnson, assistant In Touch coordinator at Breaking Free and a committee member.

Too Good for Drugs is a 10-week program. DARE originally lasted 17 weeks, but will be shortened to 10 next year.

Although Too Good for Drugs doesn't specifically include a "graduation," Naperville schools likely would add their own, Ksiazek said.

"That was always a big hit with the DARE program," he said. "There should be a recognition component there."

Districts 203 and 204 and the other organizations in the coalition still need to decide if Too Good for Drugs is the right approach, Ksiazek said.

The city council also has to take a look at the program.

If all organizations give their stamp of approval, it could be implemented in time for the 2004-05 school year, officials said.

The District 204 curriculum committee began discussing the program this week for the schools in the Naperville portion of the system.

Aurora schools in District 204, however, will continue using the 10-week DARE curriculum.

Copyright 2004 Paddock Publications, Inc.