ROCK VALLEY—Middle school is rough for kids trying to fit in, but local restaurateur Julee Hugie is working to bring students together with her Caught Doing Right program.
The initiative prompts teachers at Rock Valley Middle School to be on the lookout for pupils helping their fellow students. As a reward, the honoree gets a free large pizza from Big Time Foods, which Hugie owns.
She said it was her way of giving back to the community. As a parent, Hugie said she knows how much a little encouragement can help as children grow into young adults.
“I believe to much is given, much is expected,” Hugie said. “To mold our youth and future population is to do the right thing, and part of that is acknowledging the right thing.”
Principal Noah De Yager said Caught Doing Right helps school administrators and teachers.
“I hope we keep doing it as long as we can — as long as Julee continues to be as generous as she has been with us,” he said. “It’s nice for teachers to have something tangible to recognize their kids with. It empowers teachers a little bit to just say, ‘Hey, I have the power to give this kid a whole pizza.’”
The supersized reward makes the program worth it for the kids who are recognized, the two grown-ups said.
A recent recognition came after a student brought in extra project supplies for a classmate who did not have any. Another helped clean up a hallway mess. A third made sure that a transfer student was included at the lunch table.
De Yager made clear that Caught Doing Right was meant to notice and encourage good behavior, not warp students to only seek a treat, which he said has not been a problem since the initiative started earlier this month.
“We want this to be a ‘now that’ rather than an ‘if that’ reward, right? We just want to recognize you and create positivity in the hallways of our school,” De Yager said.
He went on to note the fun part for him: Calling a student to the office, something that usually signals disapproval, to notify a student a teacher nominated them. Taking the time to lift students up is the effort’s purpose.
“For them to see that recognition is what’s important,” De Jager said.
That positive environment is exactly what Hugie had in mind when she first pitched the idea to the middle school. She said good feelings are “contagious” and that altruism begets better culture.
“We catch people doing all the wrong things, but we don’t take time to pay the right things forward,” she said.”
The program is designed to include all students. It does not account for a student’s academics or past behavioral record, instead targeting individual actions.
Hugie said that is intentional; Caught Doing Right celebrates those achievements beyond what schools typically care about.
“If you’re not the best athlete, where do you fall? If you’re not the best singer, or the best student, where do you fall?” Hugie said. “What we could do is to be empowering.”
The school already has seen benefits in the first few weeks, De Yager said, and the charity from local business is a special contribution.
“For me personally, I just feel blessed to be working in a community that has businesses come to school asking ‘How can we help?’” he said. “We live in a very supportive community, and I’m just grateful to Julee for being willing to do that.”