Pilot Greg Turley stands with a class at John S. Jones Elementary School during D.A.R.E. week at the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office. Katie Bohannon/Messenger.
By Izack Seahorn, Staff Correspondent
The D.A.R.E. program and Red Ribbon Week are two different programs that work towards the same goal of promoting a healthy, sober lifestyle for the youth of America.
Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton uses these programs to help educate and mentor the children in the local school system.
Horton said that the D.A.R.E. program has been around since the late 1980s and started in the Etowah County School system in 2014. Horton worked to bring the program back after he was elected sheriff, and in 2017, the program was reinstated at Rainbow Middle and John Jones Elementary schools. The program is currently used in fifth and seventh grades across all Etowah County schools, as well as Westbrook Christian and Coosa Christian.
D.A.R.E. aims to teach students to resist using drugs and alcohol through a 10-week course taught by certified school resource officers. These officers are certified by D.A.R.E. to visit the 5th and 7th grade classes and mentor students on how to stay drug-free and prepare them for middle and high school through what Horton calls “the good decision-making model.” Students who go complete the 10-week program have a graduation and receive a certificate recognizing their accomplishment. This year, officers visited Duck Springs, Carlisle, Whitesboro, Hokes Bluff, Southside, John Jones, Westbrook, Glencoe and Gaston schools.
Horton aims to have a certified resource officer available on every campus in the Etowah County School system. Starting with nine in 2016, the program has since added five D.A.R.E. certified officers and is collaborating with multiple certified municipal officers throughout the county.
Alongside D.A.R.E., students also go through Red Ribbon week, a program scheduled for the last week of October that has a similar goal of promoting a safe and sober lifestyle among young students.
“Red Ribbon Week is the nation’s oldest and largest drug prevention awareness program,” Horton said. The program is the result of the death of DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985 and aims to bring awareness to drug abuse and help the youth make healthy and smart decisions throughout their lives.
Etowah County’s Red Ribbon Week program involves the police department bringing out the tools used to fight drug use. Horton said the department brings out a helicopter and an armored personnel carrier for youths to see and interact with the vehicles and the people that operate them. Horton said that these interactions highlight the importance of a sober and productive life for the kids.
“It’s as fun for us as it is for them,” Horton said. “The kids love [the program]; it gives them the chance to interact one on one and lets them know that law enforcement is their friend, we’re there to help them. You never know what background the kids come from, as they may view law enforcement from a negative interaction. Being able to come to them and give the ability to see what we are and who we are is a good thing.”
Horton plans to expand upon the two programs even further in order to teach students to use good decisions to lead to a healthy, sober and productive life.