Idaho Statesman – Edition Date: 04/16/07 D.A.R.E. spin off gets kids hooked on kayaking. Champion kayaker from McCall has created a program that offers an exciting alternative to drug use…

As she has been living her dreams, a McCall kayaker has put a new slant on the D.A.R.E. program, which is a national drug prevention effort. Devon Barker, a certified teacher and a member of the U.S. Kayak Freestyle Team and the U.S. Ocean Surf team, melded her enthusiasm for teaching kids and her zeal for kayaking to offer an adjunct curriculum to the D.A.R.E. program. She calls her program “D.A.R.E. to Kayak,” and conducts classroom presentations and water-based experiences that suggests to kids an alternative to the temptations of drug abuse.

Barker first presented the program in 2001. She had left her full-time position teaching elementary school and was heavily involved in competitive kayaking. But she still wanted to reach out to children and share her love for kayaking and how it enhanced her life.

Lately, she’s been able to do that, as her adventures have touched the lives of school children in Idaho, Nevada and North Carolina. Kids engage in Barker’s sessions, where they gain knowledge about making healthy choices and ideas on how to be involved in activities that steer them away from drug use.

“I feel most passionate visiting schools in Idaho; we have such incredible whitewater,” Barker said.

Youths in McCall, Lewiston, Riggins and Grangeville were recent recipients of her program.

Modeled after the national program D.A.R.E., which she was required to teach when she worked in the public schools, Barker’s program has a unique emphasis. The original D.A.R.E. stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and it was created in 1983. It’s a drug abuse prevention program that works on skills children need to dodge drugs, gangs and violence. School districts across the nation use the program.

Traditionally in D.A.R.E., students are given accurate information on drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Instructors teach solid decision making skills, as well as teach the children to recognize and resist peer pressure. Positive alternatives to drug abuse are covered as well.

D.A.R.E. uses police officers to provide lessons in the classroom for students in kindergarten to 12th grade. Barker adapted the program by adding sessions in kayaks, creating her own lingo and meaning for what D.A.R.E. stands for, and gearing it to two age levels grades 3-6 and 7-12.

Barker said what D.A.R.E. means to her is: Dare to be who you want to be; Always do an activity that you love; Risk losing so you can reach your goal; and Everything can be achieved with hard work, dedication, clear vision and a deep down drive that says “You can do it.”

She focuses on how cool kayaking is while she strives to raise children’s self-esteem. Classroom presentations may include interviews with other successful kayaking kids on the U.S. Junior teams, as well as videos and journaling.

Barker uses kayaking as an example of an adventure sport that is a healthy alternative to using drugs. Kids get a taste of a sport that has taken Barker to distant places.

As a member of the U.S. Freestyle Team since 2002, she has traveled in America and to Europe, Chile, Australia and Canada for competitions. In 2004 and 2005, she was a national freestyle kayak champion, in addition to winning surf kayak awards.

D.A.R.E. to Kayak operates on a donation basis. Now on her sixth year of a leave-of-absence from full-time teaching, Barker competes in kayaking events full time. That means she has an extensive travel schedule and conducts her correspondences and her D.A.R.E. presentations while on the road in the areas she competes. After the World Championships in April, she will head to Reno and Colorado in June for a West coast competition tour.

Her D.A.R.E. to Kayak emphasis involves encouraging kids to get involved in activities that keep them mentally and physically active. She said she tailors her program to the unique needs of the school or youth group she works with. For the younger students, she provides D.A.R.E. to Kayak, but the older students get Extreme Challenge.

Presentations can run from 60 to 90 minutes in a classroom. A second layer of instruction involves a few hours at a pool, pond or lake for water-safety education. Students get hands-on experience by paddling a kayak and practicing safety techniques, including getting out of a capsized kayak.

This winter, Barker worked in McCall with a Boy Scout troop from Eagle that went to the mountains for a winter camping weekend that included D.A.R.E. to Kayak classroom instruction and kayak sledding on snow, “a neat little twist in it,” Barker said.

Typical indoor classes are held to a maximum of 50 children, while on-water sessions include a maximum of 30 children participating in pairs. Barker borrows kayaks from area retail shops.

Jackson Kayak, a company that designs and produces child-sized kayaks, sponsors Barker and hosts her Web page.

Contact Barker for presentation information.

Devon Barkers D.A.R.E to Kayak Program