LaSalle Parish Deputy Jenny Parker, or Jenny “D.A.R.E.” – as she is affectionately known – was recently honored and recognized for completing twenty-five years of service as a D.A.R.E. officer by the Louisiana D.A.R.E. Officers Association. Parker, who started her journey of service in the D.A.R.E. program in 1998, doesn’t regret one minute, one lesson she’s taught or one student that has sat under her tutorship.
Initially a patrol officer in the Winnfield Police Department, Parker was approached by the WPD administration and asked if she’d like to become D.A.R.E. trained and go into the schools teaching Drug Abuse Resistance Education.
“I liked kids. I liked training. So, I thought, “Why not?” Parker shared, explaining her decision to enter the program – a decision she’s never regretted.
Fortunately for the thousands of LaSalle Parish students she’s instructed, she transferred to the LaSalle Parish Sheriff’s Department in March of 2012 when Sheriff Scott Franklin called her to come and interview. Unsure of what position she was interviewing for, the questions she was asked soon focused on her experiences within the DARE program as a certified D.A.R.E. officer and instructor.
“All they wanted to talk about in the interview was the D.A.R.E. Program,” she said smiling. “How much did it cost? What would it take to get it started again in LaSalle Parish Schools? Which schools would be offered the program? At that time, I had been in D.A.R.E. almost 15 years.”
Sheriff Deputy Parker quickly saw where the interview was headed and could not have been happier. Long story short, this is her 15th year teaching the D.A.R.E. program in LaSalle Parish Schools.
Reflecting on her career as a twenty-five-year instructor, she said, “I believe God always had the intention of me doing this job.”
Her interest in law enforcement started at a young age. She explained that she always had a desire to help people and early life experiences with law enforcement had a positive influence on her, steering her to choose it as a career. She feels the D.A.R.E. Program gives her the same opportunity to positively affect the lives of school children today.
“The DARE Program was created in 1983 in California so that students could have the opportunity to see law officers in a positive light and as role models. Many kids then just saw police officers making arrests and working crimes,” she explained. “D.A.R.E. was created to provide the opportunity to build a positive rapport between kids and law enforcement.”
Officer Parker spends forty-five minutes each week throughout the school year in every parish fifth and seventh grade classrooms instructing students how to make responsible decisions resisting drugs and other positive life choices. She teaches around 600 students annually in these targeted grades including students in Pre-K and 4th grades. Each lesson is designed to allow students to learn and practice decision-making skills including drug resistance. The acronym D.A.R.E. also stands for the four steps a student follows in making those safe and responsible decisions: D: Define, A: Access, R: Respond and E: Evaluate.
Her sidekick, Daren the Lion, travels with her from classroom to classroom and school to school. Students who have sat under her previous instruction in 5th grade, look for the stuffed companion when she reenters their lives in seventh grade, asking for him if she fails to bring him along.
She said it takes not only the D.A.R.E. officer but parents and school personnel to steer students in the right direction. She expressed the importance of daily parent communication with their children on choices and how to handle potentially harmful situations and making good decisions.
“Let them know how you expect them to behave in certain situations – that you expect them to stand up and do what’s right,” Parker said. “Go over the ‘what if’s’ with them and how to handle harmful situations with friends; teach them that it’s okay not to be friends with people who are making bad choices that will not only affect their lives but the lives of their friends.”
Office Parker admits she’s also learned a lot from the last twenty-five years of teaching children to make those good life choices. She’s used that knowledge in raising her own children and to be a better mom to them in their formative years.
“It’s important for kids to understand that if they make a mistake, they can learn from it, and that we all make mistakes,” she concluded.
Welcoming parental communication, Officer Parker has an ‘open door’ for parents who wish to speak with her concerning their children and/or what content she is teaching them in the D.A.R.E. program. Her hopes are that parents will reinforce the life skills being taught, as they are the greatest influence in the lives of their children.
“I love my job!” she concluded. “I love this parish and the school system. I hope to be a D.A.R.E. instructor until I get ready to retire and I have plenty of years left!”
Her enthusiasm and dedication to the D.A.R.E. Program and the students of LaSalle Parish are apparent and as she says, she has “plenty of energy to continue.” Her hopes are that her students will acquire the skills they need, and the foundation will be set so that they will continue making good choices and decisions throughout their lifetimes.
“If they do,” she reflected for a moment, “then I’ve done my job.”