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Program gives Penn Hills students incentives to excel

Samson X Horne
| Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Professional football player Darrin Walls launched his educational initiative, Touchdown for A's at the Penn Hills Charter School for Entrepreneurship on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. The program will reward students for academic achievements.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Professional football player Darrin Walls launched his educational initiative, Touchdown for A's at the Penn Hills Charter School for Entrepreneurship on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. The program will reward students for academic achievements.

Professional football player Darrin Walls' family groomed him to know the importance of making good grades, so now he is passing that knowledge on to kids at the Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship.

“I always sat in the front of class and asked questions. I had to finish my homework before I could play Sega. Grades were important to me and my family,” said Walls, a free agent defensive back who most recently was with the Detroit Lions.

Walls, 28, is a graduate of Woodland Hills High School and the University of Notre Dame. He has also played for the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets.

He visited the Penn Hills school last week to launch his Touchdown for A's program — which rewards students who make straight A's with a gift such as gadgets, shoes and tickets to sporting events.

Gifts provided by The Darrin Walls Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on physical fitness and education, mentoring programs, tutoring and community involvement, will serve as an incentive for the students to do well in the classroom, Walls said.

Supported through sponsorships, donations and fundraisers, the nonprofit received a grant from the NFL Foundation to help support Touchdown for A's.

“It's designed for you to reach your full potential by pushing yourself,” Walls told the students. “You don't want to be behind the curve; you want to start now. College should be everyone's goal, because it sets you up for life.”

Sixth-grader DaLynn Moore said Walls' speech was a message for young people to work hard to achieve their goals.

“He encouraged us to be better students and to be involved in the community,” she said.

DaLynn, who already makes straight A's, said she will request tickets to a Pittsburgh Steelers game for her gift.

Joshua Petit'Homme, a third-grader, said he's not quite at all A's on his report card, but is excited about the program incentives and plans on achieving the goal so he can claim a hoverboard.

Tristan Zuk, a third-grader, said he wants to get an iPhone 7, while Amirah Medlen, a fourth-grader, wants some HoverKicks — shoes that glow in the dark.

No matter what students choose as their gifts, Walls said he is happy to reward their hard work.

Principal Tamara Allen said she expects her students to hit the pilot program's challenge head-on and achieve straight A's.

“We just have the brightest students. All students are capable of meeting this goal,” Allen said. “When we work hard and put forth effort, nothing is impossible.”

Walls is hopeful that the incentives will aid students in developing a work ethic that will help them outside of the classroom.

“I just want to push the kids to know that making good grades is more fulfilling once they find out they can do it,” he said. “If they put in the extra work, they can achieve their goals and making A's won't seem like an arduous task.”

Samson X Horne is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325 or shorne@tribweb.com.

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