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Duquesne students encouraged to make good choices

| Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 7:27 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Duquesne third-graders including, from left, Anthony Kraus, Nathaniel Ewell, HaSaun Marshall and Camaren Terry share examples of good and bad choices during a Thursday discussion.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Duquesne City School District behavior specialist Eric Harper reviews a list of good and bad choices and the related consequences during a Thursday session with third-grade students.

Duquesne educators are teaching students how to build courage, putting extra power behind the district's anti-bullying message.

Student services coordinator Martina Vitalbo and behavior specialist Eric Harper visited third-graders in Susan Sherman's class on Thursday afternoon to talk about finding the courage to make good choices and learn from their mistakes.

“We've all been your age, and we've all sat in these seats,” Harper said. “Unfortunately, we've all made bad choices in our lives, but it's what you do with those choices that counts.”

Students listed good choices they can make in class and at home: be nice, be respectful, give compliments.

“What can happen if you are making a good choice?” Harper asked.

He said the students' answers — feeling good inside, making friends and keeping friends — “are all good things.”

Harper explained that, just as good behavior is rewarded with positive life experiences, bad choices come with unfavorable consequences. Actions like fighting or using profanity in school could lead to disciplinary action, but the punishment is an opportunity for kids to right their wrongs.

“You can correct yourself because you learn from your mistakes,” Sherman said.

Students asked what they should do if they see others making bad choices that can hurt themselves or classmates. Some said they were nervous about being labeled “snitches” or being bullied for taking a stand.

Harper said he wants students to remove the term “snitch” from their vocabulary, because everyone should be held accountable for his or her actions.

That means informing an adult when someone is making bad choices — not only to save victims from further bullying, but to give the bully an opportunity to change his or her ways.

“If a bully makes a mistake and doesn't know it's a mistake, they will continue to do it,” Harper said. “We need to tell an adult (about the behavior) to help turn their wrong into a right.”

Vitalbo said students need to understand that adults in school and at home will support them through their difficult decisions, despite their fears.

“Children need courage when they feel that way,” Vitalbo said. “Talk yourselves through it. You need to be brave and tell someone.”

Sherman said the message of courage is valuable for elementary-age students.

“It gives students the opportunity to stand up for themselves and for others,” Sherman said. “Some students are more shy than others, and courage could mean something as simple as being able to answer questions in class.”

Third-grader Camaren Terry said students need to be brave and give themselves and each other a chance.

“You just need to have a little faith in yourself,” he said.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or