This school year, a curious sort of graffiti has sprung up in the corridors and classrooms of Egg Harbor Township High School. Students have been scrawling messages of encouragement - "You are beautiful," "Just be you," or "You are a masterpiece" - on pastel post-it notes, affixing them to walls and mirrors to brighten classmates' days. And written at the bottom of many of these notes is a simple tagline: Operation Beautiful.
Operation Beautiful is an international movement that encourages positive self-image and attitudes. Since the movement started in 2009, clubs and organizations have sprung up worldwide to promote its message, and one such chapter was begun at Egg Harbor Township High School the beginning of this school year.
On March 21, Operation Beautiful founder Caitlin Boyle visited students at the school to give a presentation on her movement.
Junior Daniela Puerta, one of the members of Operation Beautiful at the high school, said she enjoyed meeting Boyle face-to-face.
"It's amazing," Puerta said. "It's a blessing to have her here. It was just crazy when I saw her. I just felt overwhelmed."
The movement was brought to the school by Spanish teacher Vanessa Pezzotti-Venafro, who discovered it while on a camping trip in Virginia last spring. Pezzotti-Venafro stopped by a Barnes & Noble bookstore to find some reading material, stumbling on Boyle's book. She loved it and discussed its message with a few students in her study hall, sowing the seeds of what would become the high school's group.
In September, they met for the first time. Teachers Lauren Thomas and Sarah Barkman serve as co-advisers of the group.
In addition to leaving the anonymous notes around the school and the community, members of Project Operation Beautiful, as the school's chapter is known, have participated in a number of activities outside the school such as charity walks.
In the months since its founding, Project Operation Beautiful has become quite visible in the school and draws a membership of about 60 at its twice weekly meetings. Rosie Eberwine, one of the group members, said the members have become almost like a family.
"It's an outlet," she said. "It makes me feel like I have another home and people who I can talk to."
Boyle, already well-known online for her blog Healthy Tipping Point, created Operation Beautiful in 2009 when, after she received a poor grade on a chemistry test while going back to school, she spontaneously made her first encouragement note and posted it to a mirror at her school. She uploaded a picture to her blog, and her readers took it and ran.
The students in Project Operation Beautiful went all-out in making Boyle feel welcome March 21, posting hundreds of notes around the school in preparation for her arrival and making a banner for her that they hung in the auditorium. Seeing the students' enthusiasm for her work brought Boyle to tears, she said.
"I cried when I walked into the theater," Boyle said. "It's something I wish I had when I was in high school, because sometimes I felt really alone in high school."
Despite its visibility and impact in the school, the first-year group is not yet officially designated as a club per school guidelines, and thus is not supported with school funding. If the first year proves a success, the group could become a full-fledged club next year.
While this would be a dream come true for Pezzotti-Venafro, she doesn't want it to end there. If she has her way, the message will permeate the curriculum, she said.
"I want it to be big," Pezzotti-Venafro said. "I don't want it to be just a small club with a small group of people, I want it to just continue to be part of the character education at Egg Harbor Township High School, and I think it will be."
For more information about Operation Beautiful, visit
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