St. Albert schools have teamed up with the RCMP to test-drive a new way to teach students about life skills and drugs.
The Gazette touched base with the St. Albert RCMP and area school boards to learn more about the Botvin LifeSkills Training Program pilot now underway at Ronald Harvey, Sister Alphonse, and Albert Lacombe schools.
The St. Albert RCMP have been teaching students about drug abuse and conflict resolution through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program since the 1990s, said Ronald Harvey teacher Jill Schellenberg, who is part of the new Botvin pilot.
The DARE program came out of the U.S. in the 1980s and was originally developed by police officers and teachers in Los Angeles, reports Scientific American. Multiple studies have found it is ineffective at reducing substance abuse.
The RCMP are looking to replace DARE and are doing a 15-month pilot of Botvin to evaluate it, St. Albert RCMP Const. MJ Burroughs said in an email. She and Const. Trung Tran are running the pilot in St. Albert. Similar test-runs are also underway in Peace River, Innisfail, Manitoba, and New Brunswick.
Botvin versus DARE
The DARE program is taught in Grade 6 and focuses on alcohol, tobacco, vaping, risk, peer pressure, bullying, and communication, Burroughs explained. Botvin can be taught at Grades 3 to 8, and addresses self-esteem, social skills, advertising, coping skills, and other subjects in addition to the drug and alcohol issues raised by DARE. (St. Albert is testing the Grade 5/6 and 6/11 versions of Botvin.) Both are taught by police officers and aim to get students comfortable with asking police about these subjects to help them make healthier decisions.
A backgrounder provided by Burroughs said the Botvin program aims to change youth behaviours by targeting the social and psychological factors associated with high-risk activities. Studies of the program found it reduced the use of illicit drugs, cannabis, tobacco, violence, and high-risk sexual behaviours in youth. The program has been implemented in 40 countries and test-piloted in Maskwacis Four Nations in Alberta.
Schellenberg, who has had both DARE and Botvin taught in her class, said the two programs are pretty similar, but Botvin is more in-depth and features more self-reflection and journal-work.
“It’s a great starting point for a lot of conversations,” she said of Botvin, but she feels some of its content might be too advanced for Grade 6 students.
Burroughs said the Botvin pilot is set to wrap up this June, at which point RCMP National Youth Services will evaluate it based on feedback from police, teachers, and students.
Questions on the pilot should go to Burroughs at 780-458-4339.