Imagine a sixth-grade student in one of Harford County's middle schools being offered drugs by a classmate.
How does the 11-year-old student refuse without being teased or getting into an argument?
Robert M. Strucko, a state police trooper stationed at the Benson Barracks, hopes to provide the answer with the new Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, being introduced in county schools this fall.
As part of DARE, six police officers from various Harford police agencies will go into county middle schools to teach 2,200 sixth-graders the dangers of drug use and techniques to avoid those dangers.
"I'm not saying this program is a cure-all for society's ills, but it can help a lot of kids," said Strucko, who coordinates DARE in northeastern Maryland.
John Van Gilder, a sergeant with the Havre de Grace police department, said he thinks DARE will help reduce the demand for drugs.
"It's a little more sophisticated than to just say no to drugs," Van Gilder said. "It tells you how to say no."
The three-week course has already been added to the curriculum at Aberdeen Middle School.
The program will start in the six other public middle schools either later this year or early next year, said Edwin C. Saunders, county superintendent of curriculum.
Twenty Maryland counties have already started DARE programs, Strucko said. In Harford County, DARE replaces a similar program that was taught by teachers.
DARE is designed to provide students with ways to say no to drugs, alcohol and tobacco, Strucko said.
Police officers teaching the course stress self-esteem and use role-playing to point out what kids can do when offered something they don't want.
For example, the instructor has two students act out in front of the class what can be done when one student offers the other a cigarette, Strucko said.
"They may tease you," Strucko said. "But I tell these kids that they may dupe you into using something that harms your body."
Many youths will give in to peer pressure and accept the cigarette so they are not teased, he said.
But to say no, Strucko said, students can refuse the cigarette by simply saying they have a lung problem.
This isn't necessarily a lie, Strucko said, considering all the pollution in the air.
In addition to stemming the desire to use drugs, DARE can improve the relationship between youths and police officers, he said.
Before taking the DARE course, many kids believe a police officer is simply someone armed with a gun who drives a patrol car, the trooper said.
But the close interaction between students and police officers during DARE instruction shows kids the "human" side of law enforcement.
Strucko, who has been a state police officer for nearly 19 years, has been involved with the DARE program for two years. He now trains police officers how to teach the DARE courses.
DARE was started in Los Angeles in the early 1980s when education officials found middle school students carrying beepers to help drug dealers sell narcotics in schools. Meanwhile, the city police department was seeing more young people arrested on drug charges.
The program was then later adopted by other school systems throughout the country.
Baltimore County started DARE in its schools in 1986, making it the first county in Maryland to use the program, Strucko said.