Robert “Mutch” Muchenski is back in the North Hills School District in a new role.
A longtime DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, officer for the Ross Township Police Department, he is the district’s newest security officer. He has traded in his badge, Sig Sauer German handgun and blue police uniform for casual slacks and a polo shirt with an embroidered “NH” in the district colors of red and white.
Working primarily in the elementary schools, he still has an infectious laugh, fist-bumps students and gives them advice.
“I don’t tell the kids what to do. I just show them both sides of the coin,” said Muchenski, 64, of Ross. “When people take drugs, it just doesn’t affect the person taking the drugs. It affects everybody.”
Growing up in Ross, he graduated from North Hills Senior High School. He served in the Army in Germany and later joined the Ross police. He retired from the force in January 2011 after 38 years, including the last 20 as its DARE officer.
Allison Burns, 28, of Beaver Falls has seen Muchenski from two perspectives. He taught Burns through the DARE program when she was in the sixth grade at Ross Elementary. Now a third-grade teacher at West View Elementary, she marvels at his way with students.
“I’ve seen the way kids respond to him,” she said. “They think he’s awesome.”
She said Muchenski makes a personal connection with children before doling out advice. As part of his duties, he goes to the schools to teach safety as part of an anti-bullying campaign. He preaches kindness and urges students to stand up for themselves.
After Muchenski’s retirement, the police department lacked the funds to continue the DARE program. As a result, he taught the program for free the first year after he retired.
“The generations of North Hills students that he’s been able to guide in life and empower with decision-making skills have made an impact far beyond what we’ll ever know,” Ross police Detective Brian Kohlepp said.
During a recent class on tobacco, Muchenski moved around the room in his animated style and made the students crack up with laughter. He mixed facts with anecdotes.
At age 14, he was working at the Lincoln Bakery in Bellevue when a baker offered him a pinch of tobacco. Muchenski saw the blackened teeth and receding gums in the baker’s mouth.
“Would you kiss a boy with chew in his mouth?” he asked a girl in the class.
“He’s a very humorous guy, and he’s very pleasant with kids because he understands us,” sixth-grader Ryleigh Murphy, 11, of Ross said.
Muchenski said his students can’t be fooled.
“The kids I teach can look at you and tell if you’re for real or you’re just there because you have to be,” he said.
How long does it take them to figure it out?
“A nanosecond,” Muchenski said.
Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-772-6353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.