THOMASVILLE -- Loving. Caring. Funny. Friend.

Those are among the words Thomas County students used to describe the Georgia DARE Officer of the Year.

Officer Steven Jones, a Thomas County Sheriff's Office deputy, has taught DARE -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- to fifth-graders for nine years.

Thomas County Schools nominated Jones, 40, for the title bestowed by the Georgia DARE Officer Association. His name will be submitted for consideration as National DARE Officer of the Year.

In October, Jones will begin telling 420 Thomas County Middle School students and 30 to 35 at Brookwood School about the harmful effects of certain chemicals.

He has his work cut out for him.

Jones pointed out that in the typical convenience store, a child must navigate displays of iced-down beer to reach a soft-drink cooler.

His thrust with youngsters is to tell them about the effects of marijuana, tobacco and alcohol -- the first chemicals to which young people are exposed and those that wreak havoc on developing bodies and minds.

Although DARE classes have not begun, a couple of fifth-graders in Teresa Reiber's county middle-school class have ideas about people who use drugs.

Kevin Meads, 10, thinks people who use drugs are mean. What does he expect to learn in DARE? "Not to do them."

Said fellow student Deontae Jones, "They live on the streets."

A box in which DARE students may place anonymous questions contained the following query: "What is methamphetamine?"

"It's because they're exposed to it at home or read about it in the newspaper," Jones explained.

His goal is for each child he comes in contact with to absorb his antidrug message, regardless of a pupil's reading level.

Perhaps some DARE messages are getting through: Tobacco use among middle school-age students has seen a 2 percent decrease.

One the other hand, Jones explained, children are exposed to negative role models in video games, music and television.

Jones has a son, Riley, 6. He and his wife, Trista, Thomas County Central High school assistant principal, expect their second child in October.

The deputy holds a bachelor's in marketing and associate degrees in business management a criminal justice. He is a Peace Officer Standards and Training Council-certified instructor in general

law enforcement and a certified radar instructor.

Among student reflections submitted in the school system's nomination of Jones:

- "To me, what really makes Officer Jones the DARE Officer of the Year is that he sincerely loves each and every one of his students. ... Officer Jones made a difference in my life, and he

gave me the tools to 'just say no.' "

- "The most important thing about DARE Dude is he let us know that he truly cares about us and wants our future to be so bright we have to wear shades. He makes just saying no very cool."

- "He is funny; he always made us laugh. ... He is a friend."

- "I cannot wait to live my life drug-free and show the DARE Dude what I learned."

- "When you think about the lives that are saved because Officer Jones taught us how to say no, it is awesome."

"They made me out larger than life," Jones said about the children's comments. He thinks DARE students bond with him during their 45-minute weekly sessions.

Jones wants to teach youngsters, as well as have fun with them. He is satisfied he is accomplishing both.

Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached t (229) 226-2400, ext. 22O.

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