Rock on! Students brighten community with painted rock garden

Contributed photo. (Katie VanSledright)

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Katie VanSledright knows that even for elementary school students, life isn’t always easy.

A first-grade teacher and student council adviser at Lee Elementary School in Richmond, Michigan, VanSledright sees firsthand the need for the kids to have a pick-me-up.

“Students walk through our doors every day with a lot on their minds, with school sometimes being the furthest thing from their minds,” she said.

Oftentimes at the school though, all it takes to lift the spirits of kids having a bad day, or make children in a good mood be in an even better one -- is a simple walk outside to the garden: Or in this instance, a rock garden just outside the school.

Since its creation three years ago, it’s a place for not only the school community, but the entire town of Richmond, to go to for some inspiration.

It’s also at a brilliantly visible location outside of a playground and right by a bus loop, so students and community members constantly walk by it.

Students paint rocks with different colors and special messages or words of encouragement on them, and then put them outside in the garden.

Examples of messages on the rocks have been “be kind,” “smile” and “you can fly.”

Contributed photo. (Katie VanSledright)

From there, anybody can come and take a rock that looks pretty and inspirational.

People can keep the rocks, or add to the collection in the garden by producing a rock of their own.

In normal times, it’s not easy to keep the garden filled with rocks.

And during the pandemic the past year, it’s been nearly impossible -- with people looking for something to feel good about.

“Students seem to enjoy the rocks because a lot of times, the garden is empty of new rocks, just a few days after we’ve put out some more,” VanSledright said.

Run by the student council, the rock garden also gives students a sense of ownership and early experience managing something, given they have to monitor rock production and how many are in the garden.

Above all though, it’s just a way to brighten up someone’s day.

“The rock garden was a way to possibly help students through a tough moment, a tough afternoon, a tough day,” VanSledright said.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.