TOWNSEND -- After a four and a half year hiatus, Daren the Lion is preparing to make a reappearance at the Hawthorne Brook Middle School. The D.A.R.E. program, which was cut in the school in 2008 due to lack of funding, will be re-instituted at the fifth-grade level before the current school year is up.
The town was recently awarded two grants: one from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation for $3,739 and one from the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts for $3,710 to fund the Townsend Alliance Against Drugs. The Board of Selectmen voted to accept the grants at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
Police Chief Erving Marshall told the board that the town applied for the grants after the school administration reported a marked increase in the number of high school students violating the no-smoking policy.
In an effort to address the issue, the school administration, the Townsend Board of Health, the Leominster Tobacco Alliance and the Townsend Police Department collaborated on instituting a ticketing program for students violating the policy, said Marshall.
"It's a noncriminal ticketing program, kind of the like marijuana law," said Marshall. "If a student is found to be in violation of the smoking policy ... they're fined and go through the town clerk's office for paying the fine."
However, the purpose of bringing back the D.A.R.E. program is to address the root of the issue.
"I think a correlation can be derived out of the increase in smoking in the high school with the fact that we hadn't been running D.A.R.E since 2008," said Marshall. "That was kind of the basis of the grant proposal, in order to address those concerns and obviously the issue of drugs and so forth."
The specific noticed increase of violations in the no-smoking policy pertains to tobacco products, said Marshall, but the hope is also to address any and all concerns regarding drug use, as well.
D.A.R.E.'s curriculum focuses on teaching children how to resist peer pressure and decision-making regarding smoking, drugs and violence. It implements hands-on activities and is taught by trained officers.
"It's hard to determine whether a program like that is successful, and with questions like whether it was worthwhile and so on and so forth, basically funding was cut for the program. My opinion it is a successful program that works, which is why I'd like to continue it," said Marshall.
After funding was initially cut, the Police Department kept the program alive with community policing funds. But then, the community policing funds were cut as well.
"Then the grant came along and it has to do with health related issues, and they verified it was an interesting concept," said Marshall.
The town submitted an initial concept paper for the grants on Oct. 25 and submitted the application on Nov. 28. Now that the grants have been awarded, Marshall said he is working with the school to get the 10-week program implemented before June.
The grant lasts for one year, but Marshall hopes to be able to maintain the program by applying for the grants again.
"If it all goes well, I'd like to (reapply) next year, if the grant is still available," he said.