Math teacher Marie DeNicola and English teacher Karen Haitoff started the school year with an exercise in compassion for their 8th grade students.
DeNicola and Haitoff, loop teachers who stay with the same class of Mahopac middle schoolers for two years, have their students working on the Kindness Rocks project.
Started in Cape Cod in 2015 by author Megan Murphy, the project aims to make the world a little happier by painting inspiring messages on rocks that are then left on roadsides, hiking trails, playgrounds or anywhere else that strangers might find them.
“These kids are resilient and wonderful, but they have been through a lot this last year and there is still a lot of recovery going on,” Haitoff said. “This gives them a chance to express that.”
First, the students research quotes and pick three that inspire them. Then they write a paragraph about what the quotes mean to them.
“It adds depth to the exercise,” Haitoff said. “It forces them to think about inspiration and how you take that out into the world.”
Not to mention that it sneaks in an opportunity for the students to read some great writers.
Eighth-grader Angelica picked a quote from Mark Twain, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
“I am not the same as everybody else,” Angelica wrote. “No one is the same, but having kindness in my life reminds me that you don't have to be perfect or fit in. Having kindness in your life can show you that being different is ok!”
Damian wrote that the quote “Kindness begins with understanding that we all struggle” by Charles Glassman resonated with him because you cannot always tell from the outside how others are feeling.
“Everybody goes through different struggles every single day,” Damian wrote. “It's always a good thing to be kind, but especially when you understand that other people have their own struggles.”
After the students chose a quote, DeNicola, who teaches math but has a passion for art, had the students paint it on a rock.
“As a math teacher, I usually only get to see one side of the kids,” DeNicola said. “This allows me to see their artistic side, and to get to know them a little better.”
When the project is finished, the students will have the option of placing the rock out in nature where it can brighten a stranger’s day or keeping it and finding their own inspiration every day.
Whether they find it on a rock or carry it in their hearts, these middle schoolers know that the quote Noelle chose, “Kindness is giving hope to those who think they are all alone in this world,” is important every day.
“There are children who have no friends and feel lonely at school,” Noelle wrote. “There are adults who only focus on work instead of their friends and family. There are old people who are alone in nursing homes. By being nice, saying hello, a quick chat, a warm smile, can give these people hope and happiness.”