Faith in Action: St. Maria Goretti Positivity Club
Through the Positivity Club, Goretti Senior Jessica Swarner is Creating an Upbeat Atmosphere for Students and Teachers.
by Joe Weagley + photos by Chris Jackson
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As the founder of the Positivity Club at St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown, Jessica Swarner has channeled her upbeat outlook that comes from her faith in God into an organization to uplift the entire student body. “Faith helps you get through,” she says. In a time when bullying in schools continues to dominate nightly headlines, Jessica and the Positivity Club members have been spreading a wonderfully contagious enthusiasm at the school since the summer of 2011.
The club grew out of an experience Jessica, now a senior, had at the 2011 Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Conference (HOBY) in Chicago, which the Goretti faculty had selected her to attend. Success in her academic, athletic and extra-curricular endeavors made her an ideal choice. “With so many talents, Jessica is often asked to assume leadership roles,” says Vice Principal Bridget Bartholomew. “She does this with grace and humility.” HOBY focused on kindness, community service and how to make a positive impact on society. Inspired by these ideals, Jessica returned to Hagerstown and began planning the Positivity Club as a way to enhance Goretti’s already positive atmosphere. “I also wanted to bring my fellow students closer together,” she says.
By August, the Positivity Club was approved by Principal Richard Fairley. Religion teacher Kathleen Lilly, known to her students as Mrs. Lilly, became the club’s Moderator. Her duties include being present for monthly meetings, held in her classroom after school, and offering guidance to Jessica as club president. “I agreed to serve as moderator because I was supportive of the theme of the club,” Mrs. Lilly says. She was confident the club’s members would be able to achieve the objectives that Jessica proposed. “The students do all of the planning and activity,” Mrs. Lilly says. “I get to observe and enjoy their enthusiasm.”
About 15 students form the membership of the club. Depending on other after school activities, as many as 30 students attend the meetings. In the beginning, a group of juniors became the core strength of the club. “Eventually, students from other grades began to participate,” Jessica explains. “The club became a way for upper- and underclass students to get to know each other.”
Power of Positivity
The Positivity Club began the 2011–12 year by welcoming the incoming freshmen. “We handed out cookies,” Jessica says. “We just got a group of students working together to make everybody feel more welcome.” News about the Positivity Club quickly spread throughout Goretti’s close-knit student body, a community that often thinks of itself as a family. Students heard about the new club during lunch in the cafeteria and at after school athletic practice. “Teachers also helped to get the word out by talking to their classes,” Jessica says.
Other activities soon followed. On Post-It Day, students wrote positive messages and compliments to other students on Post-It notes. These notes, in a variety of colors and sizes, were posted on lockers throughout the school. “A lot of notes were given personally,” Jessica says, adding that both students and teachers received notes. The notes, saved by their recipients, become a collection that continued to inspire. “It was a lot of fun,” Jessica says. “I still have students remind me that it made them feel better.”
In January 2012, the Positivity Club and the Varsity Club joined forces and raised more than $200 for the American Cancer Society by collecting donations from their fellow students. As a result, the students were able to wear sneakers to school on National Sneakers Day on Jan. 27. A separate effort collected additional donations in the cafeteria during lunch. On Valentine’s Day 2012, the Positivity Club took the Post-It Day idea and gave it a holiday twist. Hearts, cut from red Styrofoam, were attached to locker doors with magnets. In the tradition of candy conversation hearts, each cutout contained a positive message. “It lets everybody know that they’re not alone on Valentine’s Day,” says Senior and club member Eric Pino.
During High Five Day, students used the celebratory hand gesture to encourage each other as they passed in the hall between classes or met in the cafeteria. Random Acts of Kindness Day encouraged spontaneous helpful gestures, including opening a door for a fellow student or teacher and picking up a dropped book.
The success of these activities will be the inspiration for new activities in the future. As Jessica faces that future, she will rely on her never-wavering faith. Once she graduates from Goretti, she hopes to leave the Positivity Club in the care of other competent students. After high school, she hopes to become a lawyer. She will always take strength from her memories, as well as her faith. “The Positivity Club has helped me bring what matters most to me, my faith, into school,” she says. “It has allowed me to share that faith with my fellow students.”