The "D.A.R.E. Dude" Makes a Difference...One Class at a Time




The "D.A.R.E. Dude" Makes a Difference...One Class at a Time
By: Kate Scott

(Marble Hill, MO)--By now, you've probably heard about D.A.R.E., the program that sends police officers into schools, to help kids say no to drugs and violence.  But until you meet the “D.A.R.E. Dude,” you may not fully understand what the program can accomplish.

When Danny Byrd walks into a fifth grade classroom, he's no longer “just” a Bollinger County Deputy. He becomes the “D.A.R.E. Dude”…and the kids love him for it.  “He’s nice.  He’s really nice,” emphasized student Amber Ritter, when Heartland News dropped in at the Woodland Middle School in Marble Hill.  “He’s funny, and he’s actually serious about what he says.”

And he’s not just serious about saying no to drugs and violence. Once a week, Deputy Byrd visits nine classes in four Bollinger County schools, to talk about “all” the dangers that could be lurking outside the classroom door, and to make sure the students understand how to deal with them.  “He's given us topics and we've had to go in front of the class and act them out,” student Michael Hall gave one example. “It was pretty funny.” 

Fifth-grade teacher Sherri Voerg watches as Deputy Byrd interacts with her students each week.  “The kids love him,” she tells Heartland News.  “He teaches these kids more in fifty minutes each week, than they're ever going to need,” she says.  “Plus he eats lunch with him. He plays at recess with them.  You can tell this isn't just a job for him. He does it with passion and conviction,” she smiles.  “He really just enjoys what he does.”

So how does Deputy Byrd get the kids to enjoy the program?  “I talk to them,” he says simply.  “And I listen to them,” he adds.  “If you don't listen to a kid, why even bother with them?”

At the end of each 17-week program, the “D.A.R.E. Dude” holds a graduation ceremony and an essay contest, requiring students to write about what they've learned before they become “official” D.A.R.E. graduates.  Those events came on Thursday for the four fifth-grade classes at Woodland Middle School in Marble Hill. 

One essay winner was chosen from each of the classes.  Those winners then got to read their essays at the ceremony.  “The reason I think it's important to stay drug free is that you can't accomplish your goals if you're high or drunk all the time,” offered Taylor Steckman to a large audience of students and parents.  “I can just say ‘no thanks’ to those who are trying to get me to do something I’m not comfortable with,” affirmed Jacob Angle. 

As Dylan Rhodes read what he’d learned, he advised the crowd, “No matter what type of drug you use, the outcome is always bad.”  And Kaitlin McCormick stated, “I feel that the D.A.R.E. program is good for kids all over the United States, and I’m glad that we have it here…We also have one of the best D.A.R.E. officers there ever was!”

That seems to be the consensus in Bollinger County, where Sheriff Terry Wiseman says the program, and Deputy Byrd’s dedication, are already starting to make a difference “outside” the classroom.  “It's slowed things down a little bit in the younger generation,” he tells Heartland News. “We're not seeing near as many juvenile drug cases.” Wiseman expects the results will become even more evident as the years go by.

The D.A.R.E. program is also changing the way the kids look at police.  “If it wasn't for police, there'd be bad things going on in schools,” says student Stephanie Brown.  “There would be bus drivers in cages like we had at one of my old schools in Oklahoma.  I think of police as better people now.”

It's an image other police officers can build on, as the kids move out from under Deputy Byrd's wing. In fact, he says the hardest part of the program for him is letting go.  “I have them for 17 weeks, and they're just like a part of my family,” he tells Heartland News.  “I consider them my kids.”  As Thursday’s ceremony wrapped up, the “D.A.R.E. Dude” addressed his students one last time, “I’m always here for you.  I think every one of you knows that…. I love you guys.”

About 75 fifth graders graduated from the D.A.R.E. program in Marble Hill on Thursday.  Another group at Meadow Heights School in Patton earned their diplomas on Monday.