Friday, November 15, 2019

D.A.R.E. to Adventure offers leadership development and opportunities to take safe risks

D.A.R.E students raise funds for their adventures
through their "Labor for Donations", doing yard work
services for the community on a donation basis
By Elizabeth Richards

The Dare to Adventure program at Windham Middle School (WMS) offers students several unique opportunities: to bond with students outside their regular social group; to learn leadership skills; to give back to the community; and to participate in exciting outdoor adventures.

The program, run by Community Service Officer Matt Cyr of the Windham Police Department, is made up of 20 carefully selected students in the seventh and eighth grades.

Every spring, Cyr said, he asks the sixth-grade teachers for nominations of kids who have either demonstrated leadership ability or in whom they have seen potential for leadership. “I want somebody from each social group,” Cyr added. 

Last spring, 75 students were nominated for just nine spots in the program. Of those nominated, 62 chose to participate in an interview for possible selection. After interviews are complete, they make the difficult selection decisions, Cyr said. The group needs to stay small because of the activities they undertake, including an end of year whitewater rafting trip. have different reasons for accepting the invitation to join. Eighth grader Ezra Foster said “I thought it was a really great opportunity and something that is only going to happen once in my life, so I should take it. I knew it was a great program and we do a lot of fun stuff, and it also was something that can help keep you on the right track.”

Cole Heanssler, a seventh grader said he had heard good things about the program and wanted to join because it sounded like a lot of fun. Building leadership skills also appealed to him, he said.
Kathryn Favreau, also in the seventh grade, added “I wanted to get into DARE [to Adventure] because there’s a lot of community service and I love doing stuff like that, and I also love getting outdoors and being adventurous.” 

Having students from many different social groups helps them realize that they can enjoy spending time with other people and build social bridges. The students who participate in DARE to Adventure form a tight-knit community that can carry over into high school as well. 

“It’s a lot of team building stuff, so you get to get closer to everybody in the group and make a lot of new friends,” Foster said.  “I think it really gives you a close tight friend group to go through high school with,” he added.

Ryan Smith, an eighth grader, said “You are engaging with different people you’re not used to and it helps you realize and learn what they like to do.” This often leads to hanging out with them even outside of the program, he said.

The activities in the first few meetings help the students get to know who everyone is and what they like, Favreau said. “Eventually it becomes like your own community and you get to have a lot of people that you’re close to. Going into high school you’re going to have this group that you know you can trust, and it’s something that is valuable,” she said.

The bonds formed in the program are demonstrated by the fact that high school students who were in the program themselves continue to come and work with the group. The experience really does help smooth the transition, these students said. 

Ninth grader Josh Noyes said DARE to Adventure gave him information on what kinds of situations may come up in high school and provided a group of kids that he knew would continue to avoid those situations.  “You always have a friend group you can trust,” he said. 

Daphne Cyr said the transition to high school was easier due to her participation in the program.  “Going to the high school it was easier because we knew what to do in a certain situation, and we had other people we could turn to if something was off.” Both the friends and the knowledge gained from the program made that transition smoother, she said.

To fund the big end of year trip, the group has big fundraising goals.  Noyes said they do this in a number of ways, the biggest of which is Labor for Donations, where students go into the community and do yard work for donations. Other fundraising efforts have included a Christmas Tree Craft Fair and selling concessions at a school dance. 

Members of the group said they like the combined service/fundraising efforts. “It’s nice to raise funds for stuff we need, but also have other people enjoying what we did,” Heanssler said.

Favreau said, “I think it’s really cool to be able to help people and at the same time be raising money for our group for the end of year trip,” she said. 

Asher Knott agreed.  “It’s definitely good because we get to go out and help people, and most people here really like helping out.  You also get to meet new people and it also benefits Dare to Adventure,” he said.

One of the goals of the program, Cyr said, is to help the students influence their peers in positive ways, including avoiding smoking, vaping, and other risky behaviors. “Even if they’re not going to be able to necessarily be the type to tell others not to do that type of thing, if they can at least lead by example that silent leadership is a positive also,” he said.

Students in the program said there can be times when people are picked on because they participate. Favreau said she wants other students to know what the program is about, and to realize that if they get an opportunity to try it, they should give it some thought before saying no.

Heanssler agreed that some people do say things about their participation, but he added that he feels the students in the group are able to not let it bother them. And if other kids see that, he said, they may be able to do the same in other situations. 

Cyr said that the teasing about being part of the program shifts from year to year, but he works to build resiliency skills among the students. “The reality is that these kids have done nothing but say yes to an opportunity, and because they’ve said yes to that opportunity, they’ve had a lot of benefits that have come out of that.” They also have the opportunity to do things a lot of other students won’t have a chance to do, such as whitewater kayaking or whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and the ropes course. 

Twenty years of leading the program has allowed Cyr to form lifelong friendships. Some former students have gone on to become Maine Guides, law enforcement officers, and leaders in the military.  “It’s just been really cool to watch that progression and I would like to think that some of what they took from here did help them in their future lives,” he said.

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