Argillite rocks offer ‘learning opportunities’

By Anne Stephens - Greenup County Extension Office

As a board member for Area Education Grants (AEG), which is part of Foundation for the Tri-State Community, I get to see the many innovative ideas teachers in our community are incorporating into their classrooms. We have some great teachers out there.

During our last granting round, we had a request from the school counselor at Argillite Elementary School in Greenup County for a project that she titled, Argillite Rocks. The goal was to do a rock painting project during “Random Acts of Kindness” week. The school counselor and the art teacher partnered to make the project full of learning opportunities for the students that could reach out into the community.

As I read this grant request on the website that we use to facilitate our granting process,, I felt that it was a good match for the Greenup Extension Arts Council’s mission. My council officers agreed, and I contacted the teachers to let them know that their grant was funded, but not by AEG. We give AEG all the credit for pairing the two entities. This partnership wouldn’t have happened if it were not for the AEG request by Sherri Nickel, Argillite’s guidance counselor. This is one of the many reasons I enjoy serving on the AEG board.

Using art to teach kindness is not a unique idea. Students in art, music, dance and drama classes learn social emotional skills every day in our schools. The arts are deeply connected to our emotions. Using art to express our own emotions and conveying those emotions to others is what makes art powerful. Teachers who inspire students to channel their emotions through art will tell you that it is beneficial for the student and the school culture as a whole.

Ms. Nickel and the art teacher at Argillite, Brittany Hale, are examples of teachers who are aware of the power of art. They also know the power of kindness and how much it is needed in our society. I spent two days with these teachers and students as they learned about kindness and designed their own kindness rocks. Every student in Argillite Elementary School was part of this project. Ms. Nickel introduced the project by reading the book “Artie and Bones: A Story of Friendship, Kindness and Creativity,” written and illustrated by Toni Field. In the story, a dog, who loves to paint, decides that he wants to spread kindness by sharing his love of painting with others. He doesn’t have any paper, so he uses rocks to make his artwork. The dog’s “artian angel” hides the rocks all around town so that others will find them and smile. After the story, Ms. Hale shared some ideas for what the rocks could look like and how to use the paint supplies.

Greenup Arts supplied the paint, brushes, paint pens, sealant and stickers. The school supplied the rocks, plastic and newspapers. The classes met two at a time in the library – big thanks to the librarian for letting us use her space. The kids did a great job keeping it clean. I had a wonderful time watching the different grade levels of students react to the story and make a plan for their rock. They had multiple directions to follow but still enjoyed the freedom to be creative. There are pictures of this project on my Facebook page, Greenup Arts. Please like this page to see more community arts projects and information. Also, on the back of each rock, we put a sticker that reads: Please visit us on Facebook at Argillite Rocks. This page was created by Ms. Nickel and is starting to show some results. The kids are excited about hiding their rocks and the Facebook page encourages people to re-hide rocks in order to share more kindness even further out across our community. Some rocks that have been found as far away as New Jersey and West Virginia.

Ms. Nickel said, “My hope is that through this experience our students will understand that a simple act of kindness can make a huge impact. Kindness can spread throughout a community and easily provide a message of hope, joy or simply brighten someone’s day.”

“I like hiding rocks because it makes people happy and they pass the happiness on to another person,” said first grader Rylen Picklesimer. I couldn’t have said it better myself. This project has been an inspiration to me as I got to watch children interact with each other at school in a positive culture of sharing kindness. They were engaged with the story, excited about their art teacher working with their counselor, ready to share supplies, and happy to put some kindness out into their town. I loved listening to them share ideas of places where they could put a rock for someone else to find.

Children certainly have the capacity to share kindness. Our teachers have the responsibility to guide students and give them the tools they need to be kind people. There are teachers all across Greenup County doing that very thing each day at our schools. I am sure that many of the Argillite students went home with their rocks and retold the entire story to their families. It is my hope that a family member listened and volunteered to help their child with the project. This is the first step of sharing kindness outside the school classroom.

If you are inspired by this story, please let me know. Greenup Extension is always taking new volunteers to work on community projects. We have volunteer applications in all areas of Extension programming: Agriculture, Natural Resources, 4-H Youth Development, Family Consumer Sciences, Nutrition Education and Fine Arts.

By Anne Stephens

Greenup County Extension Office

Anne Stephens, Extension agent for fine arts in Greenup County, can be reached at 606-836-0201 or [email protected]

Anne Stephens, Extension agent for fine arts in Greenup County, can be reached at 606-836-0201 or [email protected]