D.A.R.E. Creating a Toolkit to Live a Safe, Healthy Life
Lieutenant Kyle Van Otterloo of the Spencer Police Department, or “Kyle”, as 5th graders know him, has become a well-known police officer within Spencer Community Schools, due in large part to his involvement as the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) instructor. Now in his 8th year teaching the curriculum, Lt. Van Otterloo works with all 5th graders in the district, once a week for ten weeks, to teach decision-making skills for safe and healthy living. The culmination of the annual program includes an essay contest and graduation.
The curriculum has evolved over time, and it currently includes a much broader scope of important lessons that are pertinent to kids today. Topics include: tobacco and alcohol health facts and effects, risky situations and how to get out of them, how to communicate confidently, bullying, how to go from being a bystander to a good citizen and helping out, how to recognize stressful situations and how to calm yourself down and locating a good help network. Each lesson starts with a short video followed by discussion. At times, students break out into small groups to discuss topics and figure out answers to questions found in their booklets, and they periodically act out scenarios during the weekly lessons. Students finish each session by completing a journal entry which ties together what has been learned. When the lessons have all been completed, students are challenged to put their new knowledge and writing skills to the test by completing the D.A.R.E. essay. Students and their families gather at the Spencer Middle School for D.A.R.E. graduation, where essay contest winners share their essays and certificates are distributed to each student.
When asked what Lt. Van Otterloo hopes to accomplish through D.A.R.E., he said, “There are a few things. The first one is giving students some simple tools to put on their tool belt. Second, I hope to break down that wall between police officers and the public that we aren't only arresting people and writing tickets. With the shows on TV, it appears that the only thing we do is chase people, arrest people, and write tickets. That is only a portion of our job. The majority of what we do is try to help and assist people. The third thing is getting to know a ton of new kids each year. That is by far the most rewarding thing.”
Lt. Van Otterloo has shared many special moments with the students, but when asked if there was one that stands out, he recalled building a bridge with one very timid student, Carly. She was very intimated by Lt. Van Otterloo and his uniform, but he made it a point to get to know her and make her feel comfortable around a police officer. “Last summer, Carly received a new bicycle, and I was there. It was at that time that I realized she had become very comfortable around police officers. I was outside of the D.A.R.E. setting, and I had another officer with me, and she had no problem high-fiving or giving us hugs. I just ran into her a few weeks ago, and had the same reaction. That wall has been broken down, and that is awesome,” said Lt. Van Otterloo.
Lt. Van Otterloo has had a tremendous impact with the lives of hundreds of students, and Spencer Community Schools is thankful for his continued willingness to work with the students and share his passion for helping them to live a safe and healthy life.