No one can say Santalí Vazquez isn’t ambitious. The sixth-grader at Corpus Christi School in Rochester wants to be a singer, actress, dancer, model and disc jockey. And when she retires from those careers, she wants to be a choreographer.
School officials believe a new Positively Me program is helping Santalí and other students gain the confidence and self-esteem they’ll need to meet their goals. Each month, Positively Me ceremonies are held to reward students’ good behavior and highlight their individual gifts. It’s a concept that’s catching on at a growing number of diocesan schools.
At Corpus Christi, Positively Me ceremonies are planned and carried out by fourth-, fifth- or sixth-graders. The first part of the ceremony usually includes skits or dancing, said Kristi Rood, the school’s social worker. After that, students are recognized for making good choices, reaching academic goals and displaying positive character traits.
Rood started the ceremonies at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year because school officials were looking for a way to recognize the positive things their students were doing. The older students love planning the ceremonies, the younger students like watching them and all the students enjoy the positive recognition, Rood said. Parents also enjoy the ceremonies, she added.
"They love the positive recognition that the kids are getting, and they think that it’s really helping their self-esteem," she said.
At first Rood was worried the students wouldn’t want to devote much time to planning the ceremonies, but her fears were soon eased. The students get such a kick out of the planning process that they spend every lunch period developing and rehearsing the skits and dances for the ceremonies, she said.
"It’s kind of fun because it’s not every day you get to plan something and you get to show it off in front of the school," Santalí said.
In September, Santalí and her classmates performed a skit about honesty and trustworthiness — the theme for that month’s ceremony — and choreographed dance and step performances. Santalí also has been an award recipient at several ceremonies, gaining recognition for her reading skills and for being honest, trustworthy and respectful. It’s nice to have your good deeds noticed, she said.
"It really feels good knowing that you helped somebody, and getting recognized makes it feel even better," Santalí said.
Students at St. Lawrence School in Greece have realized the same thing, said Joseph Holleran, principal. "Everyday God, Come Be With Me" is the school’s theme this year, so students are recognized for performing ordinary but helpful acts, such as holding the door open for others or helping a classmate find the right page in a textbook. When teachers and staff members see students helping others, they nominate them for the honor, and the children receive certificates at the end of the school’s next liturgy or prayer service, he said.
"The certificate is presented to the child … amid great applause, and a copy with the child’s picture is placed on our main bulletin board," Holleran said.
The Everyday Goodness awards have had a positive effect on both the staff and the students, he added.
"I don’t think they necessarily go out of their way to do good now, but if something needs to get done, you can now guarantee you’re going to have volunteers," Holleran said. "It definitely lets them know that we’re looking for that kind of behavior. It’s there; you just have to recognize it and let the kids know you see it."
Students at the Cathedral School at Holy Rosary in Rochester are also rewarded for their good deeds.
"We have a ‘Caught You Being Good’ award that is announced daily during our morning announcements. It is not for ordinary, everyday expectations, but for the student who goes out of their way to be kind, respectful and helpful," said Kathleen Dougherty, principal.
The recognition builds students’ self-esteem and helps them realize their helpful works and respectful nature are always valued, Dougherty said.
Kathleen Carroll, principal of St. Louis School in Pittsford, also planned to honor students who were "caught" being good during February. Whenever a teacher or staff person sees a student showing loving or caring behavior that month, they plan to write the student’s name on a slip of paper and put it in a special jar in Carroll’s office. Carroll plans to pull several names from the jar periodically throughout the month and call those children to the office for words of praise and a special reward.
The faculty and staff of St. Pius Tenth School in Chili present the Joseph Sarto Award to students who show friendliness, compassion, forbearance and hard work, said Sharon Stiegman, vice principal. Sarto, who was known for those traits, became Pope Pius X, the school’s namesake and patron saint, she added.
Joseph Sarto Award recipients are honored each month during an assembly in front of the entire student body, and their names and photographs are posted in the main hall and listed on the school’s Web site and in the newsletter. Receiving the award leaves a lasting impact on students, Stiegman said.
"At the end of the year (the sixth-graders) write about their memories of St. Pius School. They consistently write that they remember getting the Joseph Sarto Award," she said.
Ann Zasowski, second-grade teacher at St. Joseph’s School in Penfield, said she boosts her students’ self-esteem by giving each child in her class a chance to be Student of the Week. This student brings in photographs, books, awards or other items that reflect his or her interests and talents, then Zasowski, her students and their parents write a letter to the student, explaining why he or she is special.
"The letters are bound together and presented to the child at the end of each week. This activity truly helps each child to shine," Zasowski said.