"We have dual roles," says Ofr. Jay Lawrence. "We're not only Drug Resistance Education Officers (D.A.R.E.) but also School Resource Officers (SROs)."
"But we're considered educators first," Kent added. "We must spend so many required hours in the classroom to stay certified as a D.A.R.E. officer."
Before becoming certified annually, an initial process begins for the D.A.R.E. officer. Once being accepted by the school board, police chief, a D.A.R.E. committee, and before completing an intense interview process, then, and only then, are candidates accepted into the DARE program, where an intense training course prides itself on weeding out individuals within the first 24 hours.
Both Kent and Lawrence said the training was very difficult and intense but they both excelled.
The officers' jobs as officers are sanctioned by the school board and are state-funded.
The D.A.R.E. lessons they teach for each class at every school within the Zachary Community School District are part of the school teacher's lesson plans for a specific week/time period, and the lessons are different for each grade level. They're adapted to be age-specific for the students, Kent and Lawrence said.
"Our primary focus is teaching students healthy decision making skills when they're faced with temptation, peer and personal pressures, illegal activities, bullying scenarios and drugs," the officers said. "We don't just teach how to 'say no' to drugs, we educate kids about much more than that. In fact, we educate them on topics their parents may have difficulty discussing...topics that may be uncomfortable to talk about between a parent and a child."
Pre-k students learn about the concept of police officers and are taught officer friendliness; K-4th-graders receive lessons on guidance, about meeting strangers and learn internet and gun safety, as well as receive bullying lessons; 5th-graders receive the most detailed of the D.A.R.E. lessons since it's a transition grade for kids, and it's also part of their core curriculum; 6th thru 8th-graders learn about keeping it real and the law; and high school presentations are customized to fit the teacher's guidance lessons for a specific time period. Topics for high school students, including students at Port Hudson Career Academy, range from driving safety, truancy and bullying to drug abuse, drug safety and gang violence.
Lawrence teaches at Northwestern Middle, Zachary Elementary, Zachary Christian Academy (The Rock Church) and makes presentations at Zachary High and Port Hudson. Kent teaches at Northwestern Elementary and Copper Mill, where she teaches about 20 different classes of 4th-graders, and makes presentations at ZHS and Port Hudson as well. Both women spend so much time at the schools, they even have their own offices at most of the schools.
Both Kent and Lawrence say they know they leave a lasting impression on the students. Part of why they do what they do stems from "kids returning when they're older and thanking us for making a difference in their lives."
Police Chief David McDavid said Kent and Lawrence also handle police issues at the schools - truancy, fighting, bullying, theft, child custody issues and parent disturbances, the latter of which happens often, he said.
"They are a vital, integral part of not only the ZPD but also the Zachary School District," McDavid said. "It's important for them to be there at the schools."
Even though the D.A.R.E. officers spend so much time within the schools educating Zachary's youth, no portion of their salary is paid by the school district.
"We sometimes go great distances to kids' homes regarding truancy issues," Lawrence says, "since the school district is larger than the city's limits."
To help alleviate wear and tear on their own vehicles, both women drive new D.A.R.E. vehicles, a part of their job they admit is exciting. "People, but especially the kids, absolutely love our cars," Kent said. "They love riding in them."
"They can relate to the car, plus it gives them a connection with us as police officers," Lawrence said.
McDavid said the cars would not have been possible without the generosity of Mayor David Amrhein and the City Council. "He wanted us to have (D.A.R.E.) cars that would represent Zachary well at state and national conventions," McDavid said.
In fact, Kent's D.A.R.E. car recently won second-place in the SUV category at the state conference held in Ruston.
Lawrence said she feels fortunate and privileged to have the job she does and about the rapport she has built with the teachers within the Zachary school district. "By being a D.A.R.E. officer, it's an opportunity to serve while making schools safer," Lawrence said. "We have a different notoriety with the kids and the community than the other law enforcement officers, because we're there to do good and to educate."
"You meet and build a rapport with the kids. As they get older and you come to know their families, it makes you feel good that you're making a difference in their lives," Kent says. "Being a D.A.R.E. officer means bringing parents, schools and law enforcement together all for the common good - the child and the community."
Kent has been a D.A.R.E. officer for five years, while Lawrence has been a D.A.R.E. officer since 1994.