In 1995, the Students Making a Difference (S.M.A.D.) program was established at Norte Vista High School to combat the growing problem of gang-related violence on campus and within the surrounding area. Mr. Dennis Puskas, the school's vice principle, organized a roundtable discussion of five area gang leaders, all of whom were students at the school. The students met with Mr. Puskas and School Resource Officer Pat Young to discuss the problem and explore possible solutions. The students expressed a desire to make a difference in the school and their community. Out of this roundtable discussion S.M.A.D. was born. S.M.A.D. currently has between 50 to 55 members, most of who used to be involved in the gang lifestyle. They meet once a week to decide on a project and vote on if they want to do it or not.
The mission of the group is to keep gang violence low in and around the high school by calling a truce amongst the gangs and perform community service. S.M.A.D. encourages other students and current gang members to join their group. They also try to divert negative energy to positive energy by coming to school and helping in the community. The members of the group wanted to make a better life for themselves and saw this as the way to do it.
S.M.A.D. has done a myriad of things to help the community. Doing everything from raising food and clothes for the needy to helping the police department keep the streets safe by handing out safety pamphlets during high risk times and participating in an adopt-a-street cleanup program. They have also served as big brothers/sisters to at-risk elementary/junior high school students. They talk to the younger students about what it was like to be in a gang and try to keep them from entering that lifestyle.
The program has produced many positive results. There has been a decrease in violence on campus, and on New Year’s Eve it was customary for someone to shoot their gun in the air. This year through information provided by S.M.A.D. on the dangers of shooting guns in the air there was a decrease in gun firing, according to the police.
Funding for S.M.A.D. comes mostly from donations and raffles. However, one time Wal-Mart matched their raffle money of $1500 and gave them one percent of their daily sales which totaled close to $2,400. The members of S.M.A.D. have set aside $1,000 for a scholarship fund for its members.
Through the program the members show their families and the community their personal worth. Most of the members will be first generation high school graduates and a lot of them are moving onto college after graduation.