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Westport Officer DAREs to Make a Difference

WESTPORT, Conn. – Scare tactics and lectures are not methods Westport Police Officer Ned Batlin uses to teach Westport fifth-graders about the dangers of substance abuse in his D.A.R.E. classes.

Instead, the Westport native and Staples High School graduate focuses on forming friendships and trust with the students in his Drug Abuse Resistance Education classes by getting to know them and letting them get to know him.

“My teaching philosophy is not to walk in there and tell the kids what they can and can’t do,” said Batlin, a 10-year veteran of the Westport Police Department. “Making connections with the kids, I think, is just as important as the message of D.A.R.E.”

Batlin, who has been the D.A.R.E. officer for the past four years, teaches 10 lessons of 45 minutes each to fifth-graders in all five Westport elementary schools each year. The program, he said, goes beyond teaching students about the risks of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. It’s designed to teach students the skills they’ll need to avoid getting involved with drugs or violent behaviors.

To accomplish this goal, Batlin said he emphasizes peer pressure, friendships, bullying and self-confidence in his lessons.

“A lot of kids think getting involved with drugs or alcohol will make them cool and popular, so I talk about confidence,” he said. “I tell my students it’s all about how you perceive yourself. If you’re comfortable in your own skin, people will want to hang out with you.”

When he can, Batlin said he also invites students from the Staples High School Teen Awareness Group in to talk to the fifth-graders.

These focused lessons, he added, are the ones his students enjoy most. “Once we start talking about friendships and being confident, you can really feel the energy in the room.”

Another way Batlin gets through to his students, he said, is by being open and honest from Day 1. As part of this, Batlin said he doesn't shy from student questions. He said he also explains that the students will be faced with difficult decisions and emphasizes that the choices they’ll have to make are theirs alone — not the decisions of others.

“I try to teach them the broader picture,” he said. “I tell them if they want freedom from their parents, they have to earn their parents’ trust.”

Batlin, who said he receives positive feedback from the parents, attributes his ability to relate to his students to a history of working with the town’s youth. Before he joined the force, he was a coach at Staples for 10 years. He’s currently the junior varsity lacrosse coach, a position he has held since 2009.

He also does work with the Teen Awareness Group and is an adult member of the Westport Youth Commission. Beginning this fall, he will serve as the head coach for the Westport Police Athletic League’s eighth-grade football program.

But the work he does as the D.A.R.E. officer, he said, is the most rewarding job in Westport. “I love working with kids. It’s great that I get the opportunity to open very serious dialogue with them and help them be good decision makers.”

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