The Grove City Division of Police is one of 130 law enforcement agencies such as sheriff's offices and police departments around the state that are receiving Drug Use Prevention Grant funds from the Ohio Attorney General's Office.
Grove City will be receiving $44,758 to pay up to half the salary of its two Define, Assess, Respond, Evaluate officers, said Sgt. Rick Hardy of the police department's community services bureau.
"We are only able to use the money to help pay the salaries of our DARE officers," he said.
The Drug Use Prevention Grant program is designed to help establish or maintain drug abuse prevention education and awareness programs for students during the 2017-18 school year.
A total of $2.7 million in grants were announced Aug. 2.
The mission of DARE has evolved from a simple focus on preventing drug and alcohol use, Hardy said.
"It's about helping students learn how to make responsible and safe decisions," he said.
The DARE acronym used to stand for "Drug Abuse Resistance Education," Hardy said.
"Those (the current four words) are the four steps of good decision-making," he said. "First you define the situation you're dealing with, then assess the choices you have and whether they are good ones or bad ones."
Respond involves making a choice and evaluate is thinking about whether the decision made was a good one, Hardy said.
"I like the new approach of focusing on decision-making," said Mike Nesler, principal at Hayes Intermediate School. "It applies the DARE program to all sorts of issues, not just drug and alcohol use. It also covers issues like bullying and peer pressure.
"It even touches on positive peer pressure," Nesler said.
"Not all peer pressure is bad. It's important to help students know the difference. It's not bad peer pressure if someone's asking you if you want to play some basketball," he said.
Grove City's DARE officers are Misty Hutchinson and Matt Mullins. The program is coordinated in partnership with the South-Western City School District.
During the school year, the pair visit classrooms at each elementary and intermediate building in Grove City, including non-district schools such as Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School and Grove City Christian School, Hardy said.
"Students participate in the DARE program during second and fifth grades," Hutchinson said.
The second-grade program is a less-intensive and age-appropriate four-week session, she said.
In fifth grade, officers visit each classroom for 12 weekly one-hour sessions, Hutchinson said.
The sessions include role-playing scenarios and discussions in which students are able to talk about the decisions they would make in a situation and why, she said.
"We also have some initial interaction with kindergarten students when they are going through Jackson Township Fire's Safety Town program, and we visit the third-grade classrooms for a safety-belt program," Hutchinson said.
"Students get to know us over the years," she said. "You'll visit a third-grade classroom and they definitely remember us from Safety Town or our second-grade program."
Interacting with students early and through a number of grade levels helps youngsters develop trust of police officers as someone who is there to help them, Hutchinson said.
"That pays dividends as they grow older," she said.
Another benefit is that the officers visit classrooms rather than holding school-wide classes, Nesler said.
"They get to know the students and the students get to know them," he said.
"We try to get out and interact with students as much as we can," Hutchinson said. "We'll be out at Arts in the Alley and other community events and at skating parties and other school activities. Students get used to seeing us."