11/10/10 — Goldsboro police still daring kids to just say no

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Goldsboro police still daring kids to just say no

By Gary Popp
Published in News on November 10, 2010 1:46 PM

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Goldsboro police officer Cpl. Willie Thomas speaks to a fifth-grade class at Greenwood Middle School about self-esteem, peer pressure and the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Several area middle schools are using D.A.R.E. programs in their curriculums to help children make positive life choices.

The D.A.R.E. program consists of an eight-week course that gives children information on tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and how to respond in situations where drugs are present.

Cpl. Willie Thomas of the Goldsboro Police Department has been teaching D.A.R.E. in classrooms of Wayne County for 16 years.

"Young kids have a lot of curiosity about drugs and what they see on television," Thomas said. "I try to serve as source of information for them."

During a D.A.R.E class for fifth-graders at Greenwood Middle School last week, the topic was self esteem.

"If kids feel good about themselves, they are less likely to use drugs or alcohol at a young age," Thomas said.

Rolanda Best, principal at Greenwood Middle School, sees the benefits of D.A.R.E. for the students.

"We have the D.A.R.E. program at Greenwood because we want to teach kids about making healthy decisions," Ms. Best said. "I think discussion and activities about having self esteem fits right into the concept."

D.A.R.E. Instruction in the schools is designated for students in the fifth grade. Thomas said it is important to talk to children about drugs and violence at a young age.

"These days children are exposed to so much violence and drug use through music and television," Thomas said.

There are a lot of misconceptions about drugs and alcohol among the 10 year olds.

"Kids will ask me if beer and wine is alcohol," Thomas said. "They see movie stars and athletes drinking on television and they think some of this stuff is OK."

The lessons taught through D.A.R.E. are especially appropriate for the fifth-graders at Greenwood. At many of the schools in Wayne County, fifth-graders are the oldest kids at an elementary school, not the youngest at a middle school.

Another part of D.A.R.E is to instill self-confidence in the children so they will be not be negatively affected by outside influences

"Peer pressure is such a big thing at their ages." Best said. "D.A.R.E provides them with factual information that combats peer pressure.

Thomas says D.A.R.E. has backed down from its former stance of 'Just Say No.'

"Kids today hear 'Just say no,' and ask 'Why?' I give them the reasons," Thomas said. "We explain to them the health effects of drug use, because, eventually, they are going to have make their own decisions."

During the class, the students sat attentively and stared, in near awe, at the towering Thomas who taught the lesson dressed in his police uniform.

"I love the kids," Thomas said. "And, I try to let them know that just because I wear a uniform, I still make mistakes just like everybody else."

From the beginning of the class, Thomas puts the kids at ease by telling them that there are no dumb questions at D.A.R.E., and he uses humor to keep the children comfortable and interested.

"All the kids know him and respect him, especially the young men," Best said. "Officer Thomas is a great presence at Greenwood."