Living life as a junior, the Jenna Swartz way

by Linda Hubbard on March 21, 2012

When Jenna Swartz declares “it’s kind of hard to have fun when you’re a junior,” it’s a simple declarative statement, without a hint of whining. Given Jenna’s commitment to playing water polo and her involvement with a number of charitable activities, it’s a stretch to figure out when the Menlo-Atherton High School student has any down time.

Jenna, who has lived in Menlo Park all of her life, is the kind of well-rounded student/athlete/person that sometimes doesn’t quite make it into the spotlight. That was on Cheryl and Bob Zider’s mind when they established the Chris Zider Award in memory of their son, who died in a snowboarding accident when he was 15. “The award is intended for mid-peninsula high school sophomores who exhibit the values, character and qualities that Chris did,” they explain. “The selection process is aimed at identifying those candidates who make a consistent effort to achieve their potential in academics and athletics and who exhibit a love of family and friends.”

Last year when she was sophomore, Jenna applied. “My sister was a finalist and my brother was a semi-finalist,” she says. “And, my leadership class teacher recommended that I apply.”

She learned that she was the female recipient of the $15,000 scholarship in the Fall. Where she will use it, she’s not sure. “I don’t have a clear idea of where I want to go to college yet and plan to go East over spring break to start the search,” she says.

Meantime, she continues playing her favorite sport, water polo. “I’ve always loved sports and have been aggressive when I play — and water polo is a very aggressive sport,” she says. “I’ve also swum competitively but never much liked the racing back and forth. I love that you don’t have to wear goggles when playing water polo, and the fact that you can chase the ball around the pool and score.”

Jenna is also currently involved with Project Backpack, a program that’s part of M-A’s Outreach Club. The goal is to put together 200 backpacks that will be distributed by the students to homeless people in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. Through April 11 the group is collecting backpacks, new toiletries, used clothing such as coats, sweats,  gloves, beanies etc. as well as blankets and sleeping pads. Donations can be dropped off at M-A; pick can be arranged by emailing

That is just one of Jenna’s philanthropic endeavors. She explains: “My Mom and I have been involved with the National Charity League since I was in 8th grade. It’s an awesome opportunity to get involved with many charitable organizations and it’s how I got acquainted with My New Red Shoes, which quickly became my favorite. I’m now on the MNRS’s Teen Advocacy Council.”

Given that junior year is all about making the best grades possible, we return to the subject of “fun” and how Jenna has time for hanging out with her friends and going hiking, which she says she loves to do. “I also love playing the guitar and listening to music, especially the Beatles.  And, this summer I plan to take it easy — playing water polo, doing some coaching and life guarding at Ladera.”

Note: The deadline for the preliminary application for this year’s Chris Zider Award is March 26. The award is open to any 10th grade student who participates in competitive athletics during high school and who lives in Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, Stanford or Woodside. Sophomores who attend Menlo School or Woodside High School are also eligible. More information is available online at the organization’s website.

Photo by Irene Searles

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