Those walking along State Street in Uptown Westerville may encounter bits of kindness, well wishes and encouragement from fourth-graders at Whittier Elementary.
Hidden in planters, between branches, along patches of grass near the sidewalk are dozens of hand-painted rocks with a variety of messages written by students.
“You can do anything amazing.” “Love someone. They’ll love you back!” “Do not doubt yourself.” “The kindness you put in the world always has a way of coming back to you.”
The fourth-graders created the Kindness Rocks! with art teacher Summer Weinheimer as part of a joint project with their classroom teachers. Their recent language arts lesson was dedicated to the complexity of the human heart, where they read books and poems that explored what it means — literally and figuratively — to have a “great heart.”
Fourth-grade teachers Angela Zimmerman and Deb Stoner approached Weinheimer to collaborate on the interdisciplinary lesson as a way for their students to consider how they can demonstrate “great heartedness” in their day-to-day life.
“Sometimes it can seem like making a difference for someone is challenging or out of reach for a young person, but they have the power to do small things that add up to a big impact on others,” Zimmerman said.
She has integrated other activities to the language arts unit: Students listened to songs with "heart" in the title, voting on what they considered were the best ones based on music and lyrics and tracking their results in a bracket à la March Madness. They built heart models using recycled and found materials and performed poetry readings in a poetry slam event.
Stoner said it’s important to involve specials teachers in the language arts curriculum as the conversations among students can carry over into other classrooms. And specials teachers have always found a way to connect it to their curriculum, too, she said.
As part of the art project, Weinheimer worked with fourth-graders to brainstorm the design of their rocks, encouraging them to consider messages that could brighten or uplift the spirits of those who find them. Students mapped out their ideas, sketching them out before painting them on their rocks. Once finished, Weinheimer sealed and tagged them with the school’s name.
This week, students took a walking field trip with Weinheimer and Principal A.J. Hoffman through the school’s neighborhood, Hanby Park and Uptown Westerville to hide their rocks. Some placed them in spaces where they could be easily discovered — an outdoor table in front of Java Central Cafe or near the patio entrance to Jimmy V’s Grill & Pub. Others found more obscure hiding spots such as along a branch of the Christmas tree in front of Westerville City Hall or tucked between two tap roots of a tree along State Street.
Students considered who they wanted to find their rocks as they considered where to put them.
Henry Swanson, for instance, hopes a kid having a bad day stumbles onto his rock, which features the message “Kindness is key.”
“It’s about spreading kindness and I want them to know that kindness is key to life,” he said.
Morgan Deweese is also hoping a kid finds her rock hidden in the Westerville City Hall courtyard. It features a phrase she heard and wanted to share with others: “Live the way you want to be remembered as.”
“I feel like their reaction will be good,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sydney Cavener has a specific audience for her rock, which includes the words “Reach for the Stars.”
“I want someone who will stop to smell the roses to find my rock,” she said. “A lot of people, they miss a lot of things. Someone who stops to notice things could actually appreciate it.”
For those who find a Kindness Rock!, Weinheimer and students agree on what they should do with it: Rehide them so another person in the community can enjoy them.