A SMART approach to drugs | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A SMART approach to drugs

Retired South Lake Tahoe police Officer Paul Huard treats elementary students like he did criminals: he wants them to learn, respect him and themselves.

Huard, known as “Officer Paul,” has taken over the DARE program. In the process, he has renamed, restructured and expanded it to the SMART program.

But he still drives the same purple paddy wagon.

Officer Paul, 56, the original South Lake Tahoe DARE officer in the 1980s, has viewed the evolution of students while the school drug program remained static.

DARE, which only addressed the drug problem of students, didn’t touch upon violence, the importance of self-esteem or understanding cultural diversity, Officer Paul said.

“It was a good program in it’s time,” Officer Paul said about the DARE program. “Things in school now are different. It doesn’t mean drugs aren’t a problem, but kids are growing up in a complex society.”

DARE started around 1985 with a union between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School District to combat the drug problem.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education then grew across the nation.

Created through grant money, SMART, which is an acronym of Special Mentor And Resistance Techniques, is a pilot program that Officer Paul will work with for a few years to help get off the ground.

In his presentations, Officer Paul is like a cartoon character. His voice pitch is never the same, his face contorts in a thousand different expressions and his body movement’s are similar to Gumby’s.

Officer Paul uses those tactics to grab fifth-graders’ attention. At that grade level, Officer Paul said, students have not made up their mind on substance abuse issues.

His uniform lets students know that he is an authoritative figure.

“They see the officer in a positive helping role, as a mentor,” he said. “The idea of the program is to have fun but to learn. It gives them a different perspective of a police officer.”

Officer Paul, who retired after nearly 20 years with the police department, was excited to get back with the students. Last week, he visited Al Tahoe Elementary School for the third installment of his lesson.

The lesson was on gateway drugs — alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. Officer Paul said it took him some time to “get back in the zone” and he had to alter his presentations a bit when his audience was faltering in attention.

But hands shot up like bottle rockets when he asked for volunteers to hand out papers.

At the end of his half-hour presentation, fifth-graders soaked in Officer Paul’s message.

“I learned smoking, alcohol and marijuana are bad for your body,” said Christina Ramos. “I won’t do drugs. It’s bad for you and your body.”

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