Officer Darius Wilson of the Moss Point Police Department can be seen patrolling the city streets, but more often than not he's also spending his days in the classroom doing his part to teach kids how to make good decisions.
Wilson is one of Mississippi's 125 D.A.R.E officers -- police officres charged with mentoring students and helping them learn how to live safe and responsible lives.
"It takes a village to raise a child," Wilson said. "We all have to do our part, and that doesn't exclude the police department. I'm grateful that the position I have allows me to have an influence on the community."
Wilson teaches the D.A.R.E. curriculum -- which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- to kindergarten and fifth-grade students each week, but he makes sure he works with kids in all other grades, too.
Wilson was specially trained to be a D.A.R.E. officer, and now guides students through dealing with alcohol and tobacco use and even how to handle stress.
"I actually take it as a calling," he said. "It's something I enjoy; I enjoy making a difference in someone's life and wanted to be able to consistently make a difference in people's lives."
The Biloxi Police Department also has a D.A.R.E. officer, Sgt. Jackie Rhodes, who currently is teaching fifth-graders at Nativity BVM and Our Lady of Fatima elementary schools once a week in 45-minute sessions.
"Most of the time, when
people come in contact with law enforcement we're pulling you over because you ran a stop sign or someone broke into your car -- it's usually negative contact," Rhodes said. "Any time we can turn that around and have some positive contact, we want to do that."
He said his fifth-grade curriculum is aimed at getting students ready for choices they'll be facing as they grow up.
"That age is when they really start making decisions that can affect them for the rest of their lives," he said. "I want to be part of helping them make the right decisions."
Moss Point's D.A.R.E program began in October, but the statewide initiative has been around since 1988.
"Learning about better decision-making applies to any of these kids," said state D.A.R.E. coordinator Lt. Sheri Hall. "If the students are making better decisions, those better decisions can affect all of us."
Hall said the program has been "strong" since its beginning, but has gone through some changes over the years. "After Hurricane Katrina, the state had several cities that were demolished . There was a lot of rebuilding going on, and the extra projects were not at the forefront like the rebuilding was," she said.
Hall said the issues presented in the classes have also evolved over the years, particularly lately with the growth in social media.
"(Social media) has changed the bullying aspect," she said. "Our curriculum is updated and changes just as the children do. We know kids aren't the same as they were 10 or 20 years ago, and these days, bullying can come in many different forms."
Hall said some smaller communities have lost D.A.R.E. programs because of a lack of funding, but most programs receive money from various sources and have stayed strong. Civil groups and fee assessments are a few of the ways D.A.R.E. is funded.
"Mississippi is blessed to have a lot of dedicated and compassionate officers who want to teach this program," Hall said. "We're blessed in this state to have a lot of officers who do this because they want to, not because they have to."
"You'll always find me at the schools," Wilson said. "It's a privilege to be with them in their humble beginnings and as they progress through their academic career here at Moss Point."