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DARE replaced in Knox schools

DARE, short for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, is facing claims it is ineffective. Knox County schools are now promoting a different program.

DARE, the anti-drug program that aims to keep Knox County's students clean, is now out of the county's classrooms.Nearly every Knox County 5th grader since 1989 has gone through the DARE program as part of the Knoxville Police Department's safety education and outreach programs in schools.After several federal agencies, including the Attorney General's office called the program ineffective, DARE saw its federal funding cut to about one quarter of the $2 million dollars the program received annually.DARE's Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Francisco Pegueros says he doesn't understand their assessment of the program. He sites national statistics showing illicit substance abuse by youth has dropped every year since 1995."In another prevention arena, that kind of decrease would be headlines," he said.But, instead of headlines, the program is now looking for donations as they try to keep going in Knoxville and across the country.You may have noticed DARE fundraisers around Knoxville this week and last. Small tables offer merchandise and games with the proceeds going toward the anti-drug use programs.While the fundraisers aren't new this year for DARE, they do have a bigger budget gap to raise money toward since those federal cuts."DARE is big because when I was in school it was the program, and it helped me out a whole lot," Calbinia Burns, a fundraiser set-up at a Pilot in North Knoxville said.But at least for now in Knox County, the DARE program is gone."At one time it was the only thing out there," Sgt. Mike McCarter with the Knoxville Police Department said.Sgt. McCarter and what used to be D.A.R.E. officers are now "LifeSkills" officers. LifeSkills is the new program in Knox County that has taken DARE's place."LifeSkills training treats drug and alcohol use as a symptom of these other problems rather than as the primary problem itself," McCarter said.LifeSkills tackles social issues like self-esteem and anger management in addition to drug abuse. The theory is that drug use is a coping mechanism for other problems adolescents run into.The program will follow Knox County students through middle school. With DARE, students were only part of the program in the 5th grade.DARE leaders say they've had several years worth of lessons available since the mid-1980s, but not every department has decided to implement them. After being ruled "ineffective", DARE re-worked its curriculum with help from the scientific community.Now, Pegueros says the DARE program and LifeSkills programs are very similar. Both would follow students over the course of several years.While they are similar, Pegueros hinted marketing may have something to do with schools and police departments making the switch."You won't see a DARE ad in publications where you see a LifeSkills ad," he said.

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