YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Since the 1980s, D.A.R.E. programs have been incorporated into the middle school curriculum of students in school districts nationwide, including Yorktown’s. The Yorktown Police Department plans to improve that curriculum by expanding it to different ages.
According to Police Chief Robert Noble, some subjects are too mature for the fifth-grade students subject to the existing D.A.R.E curriculum. The eighth-grade population, however, is at the age where more traumatic situations, such as live-stream suicides, and the inappropriate use of social media, are likely to occur, Noble said.
Noble said they face increasingly mature challenges, which include alcohol and drug use, opioid abuse, smoking, vaping, bullying, and the proper use of social media. Noble shared a letter written by Robert S. Bergmann, principal of Copper Beach Middle School, in which he stressed that students need the guidance of adults in the community “now, more than ever.”
“These are not just academic [challenges]. They involve the increasing social pressures that students are much too young to fully process or address on their own,” Noble read.
The full, eight-week, D.A.R.E. course will be taught to eighth-grade students starting this September, said Youth Officer Richard Finn.
Finn said the success of the fifth-grade program, and the issues he sees in the schools, encouraged him to support the extension to eighth-grade students.
“Each and every year, [these] fifth graders, they know more than we give them credit for,” Finn said.
He added that the softer, fifth-grade curriculum will still educate students about issues such as peer pressure, alcohol, appropriate use of technology, bullying and marijuana. He warned that the “Keepin’ It Real,” eighth-grade program will indeed get “very real.”
“I think it’s absolutely where to target it,” said Supervisor Michael Grace. “High school—you’re gonna start losing them in a minute. Eighth grade is really where to [start].”
Noble said that as hard-drug use and mental health issues in the area start to trickle down from the typical 18 to 25 age bracket, to children as young as 16, efforts need to be enhanced to give young people the tools they need to navigate an increasingly dangerous world.
“These are the things our children have to fear and as a father of three it keeps me up at night,” Noble said.
While educational efforts are going to be focused on the area’s youngest, the town board said additional initiatives are emerging in the community to support another increasingly vulnerable population; 20-somethings.
“Through high school, there’s a lot of support and there [are] groups out there that will guide you,” Grace said. “Once you start getting into adulthood, you’re more on your own.”
Grace said the town board is exploring new community groups that are developing to support the 20-somethings that are “cut loose” from their support systems. He and Noble said this age range is most vulnerable to the opioid crisis. He and other board members listed financial instability, dissociation from social ties after returning home from college, and few job opportunities to be among the issues that concern them.
Some of these organizations will be present Saturday, June 17, at Yorktown’s 28th annual community day at the Jefferson Valley Mall.