Commentary: Do you D.A.R.E. to be vape-free?

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It is no secret that youth vaping has skyrocketed in the past few years with the CDC reporting that over 1 million teens vape daily. Despite reports of irreparable lung damage—and even deaths recorded in our own state, young people do not seem fazed by the dangers of vaping, and the numbers continue to rise.

The STEPS Coalition is proud to have been in the forefront with student interventions for vaping.  Southington was one of the first high schools in Connecticut to offer students education about vaping and addiction, rather than relying on punishment alone to fix the problem.  Many towns around the state look to Southington as a model and often call STEPS looking for support or guidance on how to start a similar vaping intervention program.

Many thanks to the Southington Board of education and Southington High School for their neverending support of our prevention efforts to make this possible.

To help make prevention a priority, fifth grade students in Southington public schools participate in Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.). D.A.R.E. is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive, drug and violence-free lives.

In a proactive effort, STEPS partnered with the Southington Police Department to add a supplemental lesson to the D.A.R.E. curriculum, specifically geared towards the dangers of vaping.  The goal is to ensure every student in Southington—from fifth grade and up—receives this vape education that we believe is a necessity.

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Officer Chad Butler of the Southington Police Department and STEPS staff partnered to develop the vape education material and present to the students.  We are proud to say students at Oshana Elementary, Derynoski Elementary, Flanders Elementary and John F. Kennedy Middle School have all received the information.  DePaolo Middle School is on deck.

As we round out the spring schedule, we look forward to presenting at the remainder of the elementary schools before the end of the school year.  Southington is lucky to have Officer Chad Butler, Detective Jon Lopa and Officer Justin Burke as our D.A.R.E. officers.  All three officers’ expertise with the D.A.R.E. program is top notch, and the students’ faces light up when they see them.

We would like to thank Southington Police Chief Jack Daly and Southington Deputy Chief Bill Palmieri for their support of the partnership, and their commitment to keep D.A.R.E. up to date with the most recent information and trends.  Through the partnership, we are able to make prevention a priority and wrap our arms around the youth in Southington through education, reducing access and policy change.

Megan Albanese is the Southington STEPS Coalition outreach coordinator. She can be reached at (860) 276-6281 or albanesem@southington.org.