DURANT, Okla. – The Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E., program has been around since 1983, but has only recently made its way to the Choctaw Nation. With budget cutbacks affecting many school districts over the past few years, many schools have unfortunately had to cut the D.A.R.E. program as well. The program, which provides police officer-led in-class lessons to students about drug abuse and overcoming peer pressure, is one the Choctaw Nation wanted to start for years and, thanks to the help of federal funding, was able to implement this year.
“We’ve been wanting to get a D.A.R.E. program started within the Choctaw Nation for the past three or four years,” said John Hobbs of the tribal police department. “Chief Pyle and Assistant Chief Batton thought it would be a great way to assist our communities so we applied for and received a federal community policing tribal grant to fund the officer position.”
Nathan Calloway, the community relations officer who’s been with the tribal police for almost two years, recently stepped up to fill the D.A.R.E. officer position.
Calloway has spent much of this spring school semester visiting with fifth and sixth grade students as part of the D.A.R.E. initiative. “I go to the schools weekly and talk to the kids about drug abuse obviously, but I also spend a lot of time focusing on peer pressure, building confidence, teaching strategies to get out of problems and ways to resist pressure.”
One tool Calloway uses as an icebreaker when he meets with the kids is a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS police vehicle. “The car gets the kids talking. They come out and look at the car, ask questions and then they seem to loosen up around me. The kids are surprisingly very open and ask a lot of mature, relevant questions.”
The car is also the result of federal funds. “We were able to purchase our new D.A.R.E. vehicle, the Chevy Camaro, with stimulus funds we received,” Hobbs said. “We were only one of four agencies that received these funds so we feel grateful for that. And since D.A.R.E is a new program for us, we’re happy to have this vehicle as a means to connect with the kids.”
The Camero is a fully equipped police vehicle, with a few extras added to make it more appealing to the kids. Along with the standard radio, siren, and lights, this car was also outfitted with a large amount of additional lights on the front, back and underneath, along with a contemporary style of decals.
“Since our tribe isn’t on a reservation and our tribal kids are located all throughout our 10-and-a-half counties, we thought the best way to reach them was to reach out to the entire community,” Hobbs said. “Our program is offered to all schools within the Choctaw Nation. We’re glad to be able to pick back up where other departments had to leave off due to budget cuts.”
“Our focus is on the rural schools throughout southeastern Oklahoma, the schools that might not have these resources readily available to them,” Calloway said. “Drug abuse and peer pressure happen in small towns the same as it does in big cities and the kids in rural school districts deserve the same education and mentoring.”
And beginning at a young age is vital when it comes to reaching out to the kids. “Teaching them good decision making skills at this age is important because they’re susceptible to influence. We want to get to them first so they have the correct information instead of them learning about drugs from a drug dealer or someone without their best interests in mind,” Hobbs said. “If this program can keep just one child from getting on drugs by learning to say no and learning the consequences and then making the decision that it’s not a life path they want to be on, then this program is a success.”
Officer Calloway and the D.A.R.E Camaro have been met with a very good reception at all the schools he’s visited so far and he’s looking to expand the program even more during the next school year.
The program is open to all schools within the Choctaw Nation’s counties. Any school district that would like to utilize the Choctaw Nation’s D.A.R.E. program can contact Nathan Calloway at the tribal police department at (800) 522-6170, ext. 4003.