DOWNERS GROVE – School District 58 may have cut the DARE program, but a Downers Grove North High School club has kept its spirit alive.
Students in the selective J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation club at North High School started the DECIDE program four years ago and visit sixth graders in seven Downers Grove grade schools every two weeks. The high-school students teach the younger students about good decision making, healthy choices and the risks and dangers of drug and alcohol use.
This spring, the program’s ambitions grew, and it hosted the first DECIDE lock-in for sixth-graders April 26 at the high school.
“I think it’s really cool that the students have stepped up and taken up something that the funding left,” said DECIDE member and North High School senior Micah Pfotenhauer. “It’s filling in for the DARE program, something we thought was valuable when we were that age. I’m glad my peers could make something for them so it doesn’t die out with us.”
In some ways, Pfotenhauer and Megan Hurley, teacher and North High School’s faculty sponsor for the club, said they think the DECIDE program could be more effective than DARE for sixth-graders since they hear the message from high-school students instead of an adult police officer.
“Our big message is ‘teens help other teens,’ ” Pfotenhauer said. “More teens go to their peers first before they go to adults.”
The J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation club has 48 members at the high school. Every year, school faculty nominates students for the club, and eight boys and eight girls are asked to join. They remain members until they graduate.
Four of those 16 are then sent to the Braid ranch in Colorado for 40 hours of leadership training each year.
Speaking to sixth-graders is one of several ways the club helps the students learn leadership skills.
“I think putting them in front of younger kids, they gain confidence in the influence they can have,” Hurley said. “I’ve seen all of the high-school kids that I’ve worked with flourish this year. They have the confidence that they actually have a good message and they can spread it to others and others will listen to them.”
Pfotenhauer said central to that message is the sixth-graders can start using the decision-making skills taught by DECIDE in a variety of situations, whether they have been offered drugs or alcohol or not. The group also gives the younger students lessons on how media influences behavior.
“We showed them a lot of different commercials and advertisements and had them react to them and talk about what underlying messages were there,” Pfotenhauer said. “They did a lot of role playing, refusal skills and skits, which they loved doing.
“I would hope that they can just remember the importance of making those good decisions.”