In the 1989 Spike Lee film “Do the Right Thing,” racial tensions boil over in a New York City neighborhood, resulting in a tragedy and a riot on the streets of Brooklyn.
The message of the critically acclaimed film — it isn’t always easy to make good choices in the face of peer pressure — launched a worldwide program to encourage young people to “Do the Right Thing,” and that program has landed in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District.
A school district in Miami, Fla., started the program a year after the film debuted to reward a young man who turned in a loaded handgun that he had found at his school. He was touched by the 100 police officers who showed up for his award ceremony, and the program has since grown with 56 chapters across the world, including one in London and four in Germany.
Now, a chapter has been started in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District due to the efforts of Whitehall police Officer Dave Artman and district officials who learned about the initiative, which is a cooperative, character-building program involving local police, schools and businesses that seeks to reward kids for everyday good deeds, despite peer pressure to do wrong. The program will include the school district and police from Whitehall, Baldwin Township and Baldwin Borough.
“We have great kids and they need to be recognized,” said Officer Artman, who persuaded each of the district’s five parent-teacher groups to donate $100 for a startup kit and the rights to use the logo.
He is now seeking donations from local businesses and hopes to reward about 10 students each month for doing the right thing.
“We’re starting small,” he said. “We have nothing now. Zero money.”
As the police department’s representative for D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, to the district’s five schools, Officer Artman sees firsthand the good deeds of students. He also has two sons who attend Harrison Middle School and Baldwin High School.
“I know every kid in the district. I became a D.A.R.E. officer 13 years ago. Before I got into the schools, I only saw kids when they were doing something wrong or acting out,” said Officer Artman, known as “Officer Dave” to the students. “But since I’ve been going into the schools four days a week, I see we have great kids. I see them doing great things all the time.”
Officer Artman notices even small acts of kindness, such as the student who helps her special-needs peer without being asked.
“This goes on every day,” he said. “We have great kids, and most officers don’t get to see that every day.”
Officer Artman approached the school board about the program last week.
The board, which has been under attack for months over a controversial action involving board member Martin Schmotzer, was quick to accommodate the officer, thanking him for the chance to spread good news during troubled days for the district.
Board President Larry Pantuso said the officer could bring as many students as he would like to board meetings each month to be recognized.
“We just want your support in bringing these students to the forefront,” Officer Artman said.
“I think it’s a great program; I support it,” board member Tracy Macek said.
Parents, teachers, staff members or anyone from the community can nominate students they believe are worthy, and the students will be recognized by the board.
The Miami program rewards as many as 1,000 kids every month with trips abroad and other gifts.
“We’re not there yet,” said Andrea Huffman, district director of curriculum and the district liaison to the program. “We’d like to start on a small scale.”
“We’d like to do nice things for the kids,” Officer Artman said. “Maybe we can start with a trip to Kennywood or gift certificates from restaurants. We’d like to give them something to be recognized.”
But even if that’s not possible, Officer Artman said, the recognition itself should encourage students to make good choices and “do the right thing.”
“It’s just a pat on the back,” he said. “Everybody needs that sometimes; it feels good.”
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.