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Baldwin-Whitehall leaders support student-recognition project

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Helping a classmate in need or reporting suspicious activity to the police could lead to recognition for students in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District — and maybe even land them a gift card to a local eatery or a free day at Kennywood.

District leaders, along with local law-enforcement and parent-teacher organizations, are launching a local chapter of the Miami-based reward program “Do the Right Thing,” where they work together with local businesses to recognize students who exemplify positive behavior or display acts of kindness.

“So often, our focus is on students with behavioral issues or academic issues. But we really want to find a way to celebrate our student successes,” Baldwin-Whitehall director of curriculum Andrea Huffman told school board members last month. “We have so many wonderful children in this district.”

“Do the Right Thing,” now run by a nonprofit organization, launched in Miami in 1990 after a high school student found a loaded hand gun and “against pressure from his peers, friends” the student “did the right thing” and turned in the gun to officials, said Whitehall police officer Dave Artman. He brought the program to Baldwin-Whitehall after hearing about it at a conference he attended about a year and a half ago.

The Baldwin Borough, Baldwin Township and Whitehall police departments — which are the three forces in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District — all will work together for the program.

In Miami, the student who turned in the loaded gun received recognition from the Miami Police Department, and community leaders saw the positive affects the ceremony had and opted to make the program ongoing, Artman said.

Now, there are 56 chapters of “Do the Right Thing” — the namesake of a 1989 Spike Lee film that focused on racial and social ills in New York City — across the nation and in four in other countries, according to the organization's website. In Miami, student rewards for their good deeds and behaviors have included vacations and visits to water parks. Each student recognized in the highly competitive program receives a pizza voucher, certificate and chocolate trophy.

“Miami really took it to the extreme,” Huffman said. “We're not there yet. Our goal is to start on a small scale but certainly build it.”

Baldwin-Whitehall leaders hope to recognize as many as 10 students a month at school board meetings.

Students can be nominated by teachers, administrators or community members, said Artman, a Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer for the Whitehall police, who students affectionately refer to as “Officer Dave.” A committee with members from parent-teacher groups at the district's five schools will help to select the winners, Artman said.

First, though, donations will be sought from local businesses to fund the student awards. Parent-teacher groups from the five Baldwin-Whitehall schools each donated $100 to cover the $500 start-up cost for the program.

The hope is to have at least two award events this school year, Artman said.

“This is a program that we can grow,” he said.

Finding students who deserve recognition in Baldwin-Whitehall won't be hard.

Working in the schools on a regular basis, Artman said, he often sees students lending a hand to a classmate in need.

“We have great kids in our community,” Artman said. “I wish every officer could see what I see … I wanted to recognize the kids because I know they do great things.”

The achievements don't need to be grandiose.

“It could be as simple as a student who turns (himself) around. Maybe they've had a couple of tough years in the academic system, but for whatever reason, they've partnered with another student/adult, and they've turned themselves around,” Huffman said.

School board members said they were excited to see the program come together and welcomed recognitions and awards to be given at their meetings.

“Positive support programs like this really are beneficial to kids and just makes them good role models,” board member Karen Brown said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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