Many conversations have been occurring in households throughout the Mechanicsburg School District and St. Joseph’s School in regards to a police officer coming into the classroom and visiting with their children. Most often, the parent asks the child, what did the officer tell you? The child’s answer probably does not provide enough detail to have a true understanding of what is being discussed in the classrooms when police officers are visiting. The Mechanicsburg Police Department visits classrooms for the S.M.A.R.T.S (Students Making Appropriate Responses to Tough Situations) program.

Police officers visiting classrooms in our Borough has been occurring for many years. The first program that many parents will remember was the Officer Friendly program. That program dealt mostly with safety and stranger danger education.

In 1983, the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program began. The DARE program originated in Los Angeles and eventually was implemented in schools around the world. The DARE program was brought to the Mechanicsburg School District, replacing the Officer Friendly program. DARE was taught for many years and involved instruction on different topics including drugs (tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, inhalants, methamphetamine, inhalants and prescriptions), peer pressure, friendship choices, decision making, consequences, how to get out of risky situations and bullying. This core of instruction was mainly focused in the fifth grade classroom. The other classrooms that were visited were K-4 and the topics mostly focused on safety and stranger danger.

The DARE program was originally funded in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by grants. Over time, the grant was reduced and eventually eliminated altogether. Upon receiving notification that the grant funding was being eliminated, representatives from the Mechanicsburg and Upper Allen Township Police Departments met with representatives from the Mechanicsburg School District to discuss options to keep police officers coming to the classrooms, with the understanding that budgets were tight for everyone involved. It was decided immediately that the main goal was to do whatever was needed to keep police officers coming into the classrooms. After discussion, it was determined that the best course of action would be to develop a custom program designed specifically for our communities and schools. It was also the goal of the school district and police departments that the curriculum not only be brought into the elementary schools, but be expanded into the middle and high schools on a more consistent basis.

A Student Safety Curriculum Committee was established and included numerous stake holders, such as Mechanicsburg school board members, teachers, guidance counselors, principals, school district administrators and police officers. The committee met throughout the school year, 2009-2010 and developed a curriculum with topics including drugs (tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, inhalants, methamphetamine, inhalants and prescriptions), peer pressure, laws, community safety, interpersonal safety, transportation safety, cyber safety and bullying. The curriculum was also named and is referred to as S.M.A.R.T.S., which stands for Students Making Appropriate Responses in Tough Situations. This curriculum is being instructed from K-12 and is being presented by police officers in the classrooms.

S.M.A.R.T.S. began this school year, 2010-2011. More information in regards to S.M.A.R.T.S. can be found on the Mechanicsburg School District Website. The committee will continue to meet to discuss any curriculum changes that will be needed. Any suggestions or questions about the program can be directed to Sgt. Brian Curtis, Mechanicsburg Police Department and Sgt. Peter Beauduy, Upper Allen Township Police Department.