TOWNSEND -- After a six year hiatus, an anti-smoking program is returning to the fifth grade, thanks to a grant administered by two local community foundations.
The DARE program is an effective tool in preventing children from smoking, Townsend Police Chief Erving Marshall said. He was able to link an increase in the amount of smoking complaints at the high school with the end of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education in the town's middle school.
"We ran a DARE program for years," he said. It began in the 1992/1993 school year and was paid for by federal funds. When that funding dried up, Townsend paid for the classes with a community policing grant.
When those monies were no longer available the program went away in 2008, Marshall said.
Reinstating the middle-school program augments the recent efforts to reduce smoking at North Middlesex High School. The police, the Board of Health, school administrators and the Leominster Tobacco Alliance are partners in a new enforcement effort.
School administrators now can ticket students found smoking on school property. The $100 fines are payable to the town clerk. In the past, the school would contact the police for enforcement.
"It's easier for the school to handle it on their own," the chief said. The fine process is similar to what the town put in place to address marijuana use.
When applying for the grant, Marshall broke down the cost of training a DARE officer and the cost of sending him into the school for 10 weeks.
The grant for $7,449 was given through the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, $3,739, and the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts, $3,710 using the Nashoba Valley Healthcare Fund.
The fund was formed when the Nashoba Valley Hospital became a public company instead of a nonprofit agency.
Part of the grant award was delivered personally. Ray Riddick, the executive director of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, brought the check from his agency to the police station on April 9.
Putting a DARE officer into the school has benefits for both students and police beyond the anti-drug message.
"It's nice having a police officer in the schools in a friendly atmosphere," Marshall said. The relationship between the students and the officers will be strengthened.
Marshall plans to resume the program before school gets out for the summer. "We're trying to set it up now," he said.