By Gabriel Gardiner
An officer from the Lower Burrell Police Department spoke about the DARE program at the Lower Burrell Rotary Club March 20, along with a sixth-grade student who shared her perspective on the program.
Officer John Marhefka began by explaining the DARE, or Drug Awareness Resistance Education, program. DARE started in 1983 on our nation’s west coast and has since expanded into an international enterprise with the mission to prevent the use of controlled substances, participation in gangs and violent activities.
The communities of WEDIG, which includes Upper Burrell, Lower Burrell,New Kensington,ArnoldandAlleghenyTownship, are fortunate enough to not have the presence of violent gangs, however the ills of drug use can be found in almost every corner of any society. According to Officer Marhefka, the underlining reason for the vast majority of arrests is because of illicit drug use.
As Shannon Wagner, superintendent ofBurrellHigh School, stated during the question and answer portion, “We have a zero tolerance for drugs. In the past we would only expel the students who dealt [drugs]. Now we expel anyone with possession of any type of narcotic.”
Officer Marhefka went on to speak of the benefits of the DARE educational program, but then he stopped, almost mid-sentence, and requested sixth-grader Nina Santucci perform a rather unique act. Santucci can legibly sing her A, B, C’s with her mouth entirely closed. The point of this exercise was not to showcase a distinctive talent but to illustrate the point that the DARE program’s strongest element is the relationships that are built between the students and civil servantsth-grader , Lower Burrell, New Kensington, Arnold and Allegheny Township, .
The DARE program is part of a larger campaign, the U.S. War on Drugs, and Officer Marhefka makes it clear that what is going on is exactly that, a war. From the moment a child steps out of their home, they are bombarded by outside pressures, both good and bad. This is why civic programs such as DARE are integral to our communities.