Willow’s culture of kindness and mutual respect is something you immediately see and feel the moment you step on to campus. It’s evident in Morning Gathering, when we gather the entire school community and set a purpose to our day. It’s evident at our community-oriented lunch with mixed-grade assigned seating. But most of all, you can see the impact of this culture of kindness in the ideas and interactions between our students.

This year, “kindness” has been a recurring theme for fourth graders in particular, from the food drive they led to benefit The Food Bank Network of Somerset County last fall to their ongoing learning relationship with Orly Wahba, director, author, and founder and CEO of Life Vest Inside.

Recently, fourth graders, led by Robbie Judd, continued to take a leading role in the Willow and local community as kindness ambassadors by hosting a Kindness Rocks Painting Party at Willow. The idea came from the fourth graders themselves.

“While Maya, one of our fourth graders, was on a trip with her family, she found a painted rock with a message on one side and #kindnessrocks on the other side,” fourth grade teacher Ms. Touhey explains. When Maya shared the rock and her story with the class, her classmates immediately began to research the hashtag. They discovered the story behind these rocks:

“That very day, the fourth graders went off and collected rocks from around campus and wrote messages on them,” Ms. Touhey said. “The kids loved the idea that their positive messages could make someone’s day.”

That day inspired Robbie Judd to dedicate his Genius Hour–a special time during the school day to work on student-directed projects–to organizing a Kindness Rocks painting party, open to the public. Robbie and his classmates decided they would make the painting party another benefit for The Food Bank Network of Somerset County, too.

The painting party was a great success! Attendees made colorful rocks with messages like “You are loved,” “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo,” and “Be kind” painted on them. The event raised $125 for the local food bank.

“I hope that people that came to the workshop felt great about being kind and helping other people,” fourth grader Robbie says. “I hope that the people that find the rocks are already having a good day, and it keeps getting better because of the kind words on the rock.”

Help spread kindness in our community! Find out more about the Kindness Rocks project here, and donate to The Food Bank Network of Somerset County here.