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DARE gives way to CHAMPS in Bryan County schools
Deputy David Hicks, holding Champ the bloodhound mascot, with Carver Elementary School CHAMPS students (from left) David McCosker, Will Hammesfahr, Jessica Smith, and Katie Fisher.

Starting this year, the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program is out and the CHAMPS (Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety) program is in at Bryan County schools.

The Bryan County Sheriff’s Department and the Bryan County School Board agreed with statistics that indicated DARE is no longer an effective program. Local safety and school officials are hoping the CHAMPS program, which was created in 2004 by the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, will have a much greater impact on Bryan County youth.

BCSO Deputy David Hicks recently completed a CHAMPS training session in Stockbridge and has already started teaching the curriculum to fifth graders at Carver Elementary in Richmond Hill. Hicks plans to bring CHAMPS to Bryan County Elementary after the first of the year.

Hicks said DARE was effective at one time, "but it hit a wall. It tied the instructor’s hands and wasn’t covering what kids need today. CHAMPS is more relevant to real life and everyday issues kids are being confronted with nowadays – and covers these topics in a more comprehensive manner."

Topics covered by CHAMPS include drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gangs, bullying and child abduction. Hicks said the tone of the curriculum is geared toward fifth graders, but is strong enough to make an impact. This includes actual surveillance footage of 11-year-old Carlia Bruce being abducted behind a car wash in Sarasota, Florida in 2004. Hicks said one of his students fainted when being shown photos of the physical damage cocaine abuse can lead to.

Bryan County Family Connection Coordinator Wendy Sims said she is excited about the replacement program, and it fits right in to the desired curriculum the Bryan County Drug Coalition is aiming for.

"Results have shown the DARE does not work," Sims said. "I have reviewed the CHAMPS program with Sheriff Clyde Smith, and it is definitely one that will work hand in hand toward the results the coalition is trying to achieve. One good thing about is it’s offered in the fifth grade, with a refresher course in the seventh grade."

Sims stressed the importance of getting through to kids with this information at the middle school level. She said the coalition, as well as other studies, has established that kids are first approached with drugs, alcohol and other dangers at the age of 12 or 13.

"The scary thing is that drugs and alcohol are considered cool by a lot of kids," Sims said. "We need to expose the dangers behind them at the same time they could potentially be introduced to them. That’s what the coalition is geared toward – offering alternative influences. We won’t see the true results of CHAMPS until many years from now, when these kids are older, but all signs are pointing to it being a positive thing for this community."

Billy McGrath, coalition member and Director of Student Services for the Bryan County Board of Education, has a similar viewpoint on the transition to CHAMPS.

"Results shows that DARE has fallen off some," McGrath said. "Meanwhile, CHAMPS is coming into its own. Many other school districts throughout the state are making this same move."

Bryan is the 41st Georgia county to employ the CHAMPS program. The program itself came about after sheriffs throughout the state encouraged the Georgia Sheriff’s Association to create a more comprehensive and flexible health and safety educational program.

Hicks said he just got $1,000 in funding approved to order CHAMPS key chains, water bottles and other items for the kids to take home.

He said the first batch of Bryan CHAMPS students at Carver have been very receptive to the program, to start the first year on a very positive note.

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