Ten-year-old Jennifer Brown knows a lot about drugs and the reasons to avoid them.
That knowledge and her winning anti-drug essay recently placed her in the company of politicians and celebrities campaigning for drug-free youth.
Jennifer was the only county student selected by the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to share the spotlight with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, "Hunt for Red October" author Tom Clancy and baseball Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. Her essay was selected from among 400 entries statewide.
"I shook Jim Palmer's hand," Jennifer said of the breakfast, conducted by DARE several weeks ago at Catonsville Middle School. "I'm not into spy stuff, but it was neat to see a star. (Clancy) gave a speech about DARE. He didn't say anything about his book.
"He told parents that they should get involved."
Back from her family summer vacation in the Bahamas, she keeps her black, red and white DARE T-shirt near the awards for her essay. Nearby is another certificate for participation in the drug education program at Jessup Elementary, where she just completed fifth grade.
Dressed in brightpink shorts and a pink-and-white top, she appeared serious as she discussed her essay and the pitfalls of drugs.
But a smile came to her face as she talked about county Officer Jason Little, who spent every Thursday in her class for several weeks teaching students how to identify drugs, discussing the side effects and working to build student self-esteem.
"It was a lot of fun," she said. "I thought it would be boring, but he told us what drugs can do to you. He would callother students to role play, and we paid a lot of attention.
"I thought just older people were addicted to drugs, but now I see that 13- and 12-year-olds do it. I think I'm more aware."
Jennifer discussed her feelings in her essay: "Without the DARE program, I don't know how I'd react if one of my friends offered me drugs. Everybody wants to be popular when they're older. Drugs may make me more popular, but that popularity wouldn't last long because I'd probably be dead. Lots of people who say they are going to quit, but they just can't quit.
"I know more ways to say 'no,' thanks to the DARE program. People who use
crack, pot, etc. lose friends instead of gaining them.If someone invited me to a party and said drugs would be there, I could make up an excuse like, 'I have a concert tonight.'
"I think the DARE program should be all over the world. Then maybe children's futures would be better."
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports that more than half of the state's sixth-graders have used alcohol. And, by the time they reach 10th grade, nearly one-third have used marijuana. Nationally, nearly 20 percent of high school seniors have tried cocaine or crack.
Dan Collins, a DARE spokesman, said students like Jennifer are selected to serve as role models.
"The most important part of it is the education," Collins said."We're educating young people about how they can actually say 'no' to drugs. It is not that easy, but DARE tries to show how to go about doing that."
The DARE program was created in 1983 in Los Angeles and adopted in Maryland in 1986. The county has been involved in the program for two years.
Officers spend two weeks training before working with fifth- and sixth-graders.
"I recommend DARE for other kids," Jennifer said. "Maybe I'll inspire other kids."