Ark City Police Department officers and staff spent several days this week at DARE Camp, teaching middle schoolers about drugs, alcohol and bullying.
School Resource Officer Chase Hobart, who is assigned to Arkansas City Middle School, was among the officers on hand to educate the students.
Serious discussion topics were interspersed with fun activities, while campers enjoyed meals provided by area civic groups such as Kiwanis and Optimists.
Approximately 80 students attended the annual event at Camp Quaker Haven.
DARE stands for Drug Awareness Resistance Education.
The students followed a scenario throughout the camp that allowed them to see how drug and alcohol addiction can affect their lives and the lives around them.
“On the first day, Amy — new girl in school — makes friends with the popular girls, who invite her to a party,” Hobart said, describing the scenario.
“She meets Daniel — a jock — and he gets her to drink and take prescription drugs.”
On the second day, “Daniel” and “Amy” begin a romantic relationship on social media. This relationship leads to the young couple “sexting.”
“(On) Day 3, Daniel tries bullying Amy into sending more pics, otherwise he’d show (them to) everyone — even though he already did,” Hobart said.
On the last day of camp, Amy tries to “kill” herself by overdose because she is depressed and alone after she becomes addicted to pills and alcohol.
While the subject matter might seem inappropriate for middle school-aged children, Hobart said it is not an unprecedented series of events to see at ACMS.
“(This is) an incident that I see all too often with middle school kids,” he said.
Bullying, mental health and more
DARE Camp students were taught the importance of doing the right thing in a mental health crisis situation, as well as important lessons about bullying.
“I believe many of them were impacted greatly by things learned over the last week,” Hobart said. “They saw … what it means to stand up against bullying, how dangerous social media truly can be and what substance abuse does to us, and how it impacts us and the people around us.”
ACPD used outside resources to teach the students lessons, too.
Following each day’s scenario, there were guest speakers who were able to expound upon the day’s lessons.
For example, on the first day of camp, Jonathan Hansen — a pharmacist at Graves Drug in Ark City and candidate for the Cowley College Board of Trustees — and Dr. Eric Thomson, of South Central Kansas Clinic, talked about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
“Judge Nick St. Peter talked about the legal consequences of sexting. (ACMS) counselor Sarah O’Donnell talked about bullying,” Hobart said.
“Lt. Eric Burr talked about character traits of people who take the right road versus the wrong road in life and where the wrong road potentially leads, such as a life of substance abuse, criminal imprisonment, children running away and sex trafficking.”
On the last day of camp, Lisa Butler, with Four County Mental Health, talked about mental health crisis and who to go to when someone needs help.
DARE to be different
DARE Camp has been an intricate part of ACPD’s community and youth outreach efforts for many years.
“We see drug abuse all across the nation, but I think if you start early enough by educating our youth and building that rapport with them, that makes all the difference,” Hobart said.
“It takes someone who has a passion for putting in the legwork throughout the year, day in and day out in the classroom, teaching the DARE curriculum to help combat the issues we see on a local level.”
The importance of educating youth on the consequences of drug and alcohol use ultimately could affect the ways students move forward in their lives.
“We may never truly know the impact the DARE program has, but I wholeheartedly believe if we even save one kid from a life of drug abuse and poor decisions, we’ve done our job,” Hobart said.