There's something to smile about at Mount St. Mary Academy. The Kenmore school has launched a project designed to boost the self-confidence of the students and lift the spirits of the community.
The MSM Friends of Rachel Club started a Pocket Paper Project asking every student to think of an affirmation, then "Write It, Read It, Believe It."
"We had all the students in the school write down something that they like about themselves on a small piece of paper and put it in their pocket," explained Cailey McGillicuddy, president of the MSM FOR Club. "Throughout the day we ask them to look at it five times, to hopefully help them feel happy about themselves and think positively."
The Friends of Rachel is a national program started to honor Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the 1999 Columbine shooting. In her diary she wrote, "I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go."
The Pocket Paper Project is the first link of that chain.
"Basically it's to boost self-confidence and encourage positive thinking throughout the days and throughout the weeks," said Mary Elise Brady, a member of MSM FOR Club. "(The project was held) during midterm week, so everybody was pretty stressed. It was also like a stress reliever."
The personal messages are not meant to be shared, but to keep the individual from feeling down when challenged by exams or bad luck. The message can be anything that the person feels good about, or wants to remind herself.
"Mine was 'Make a difference.' That's my constant goal and I just want to keep believing I can do that," said Brady, 17.
She found herself looking at the note more than the requested five times. The message permeated into her decision-making.
"Just by serving others and trying to take that extra step towards kindness, now that I believe I can make a difference, I can prove that I can," she explained.
McGillicuddy, 18, wanted to remind herself to maintain her high level of enthusiasm.
"So when I read that I think to myself, I should be enthusiastic, I should be cheerful. It helps me feel happy throughout the day. When I look at it, it reminds me that I have this quality that I can bring and share with other people," she said.
The project originally began in a fitness class, but McGillicuddy asked to bring it to the entire school through the FOR Club. "The goal of the club is mainly to increase random acts of kindness and encourage positive behavior randomly in our community and throughout our school. So this project had a positive effect on students in our class, and we do daily activities very similar to this. The girls liked this. They said, let's apply this to our whole school population," said Marissa Dauria, assistant principal for Student Life.
To celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week (Feb. 9-15) students were offered a free cookie and given a slip of paper with "You are beautiful" written on one side and I Peter 5:7, "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you," on the back.
"That's just a positive way to start your day. A smile, a little positive encouragement and cookies never hurt anybody," said Dauria.
Other projects throughout the week include covering all the school mirrors with posters that say, "You are beautiful" so the students see something that makes them happy every time they look in the mirror.
On Wednesday little Post-It Notes hearts were scattered on the floor, so people felt happy and encouraged when they walked the hallways. On Thursday students received Hershey's Kisses.
"They're not designed to be long projects, but something where you see it and it gives you a smile, brightens your day a little bit. Hopefully that little positive act shown to you will reflect, and you'll show it to someone else during the day," said Dauria, reminding students to add links to the chain of kindness.
To measure the effects of these acts of kindness, the club started the hashtag #MSMForKindness.
"Whenever someone uses that, we realize our message is getting further along in our community," said Brady.
"When we were giving people cookies, they were so happy. They smiled and said it made their day. That's how we measure it, by how many smiles we get," added McGillicuddy.
It may not be scientific, but counting smiles ain't a bad way to judge people.
As assistant principal for student life, Dauria gets to see student morale on a regular basis. She said these acts have made an impact.
"I think it's working in the school community in a positive direction. Students seem to be - the more projects we do, the more vivid their reaction is. At first when we tried to give people cookies, they were like, 'What's happening?' Now, I feel they're more accepting to a random nice thing," she said.
The national Friends of Rachel Club seeks to create a safe learning environment for all students by re-establishing civility and delivering proactive anecdotes to school violence and bullying; improving academic achievement by engaging students' hearts, heads and hands in the learning process; and providing students with social and emotional education that is both colorblind and culturally relevant.
For more information visit www.RachelsChallenge.org.