Students sat eagerly in rows outside the front entrance of Monocacy Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon, waiting to see the culmination of a project they had been working on for over two months.
After getting the crowd of kindergartners through fifth-graders to finally quiet down, teachers and a few hand-picked students lifted a gray tarp to reveal a collection of multi-colored, painted rocks, assembled together to spell out “MoES” — for Monocacy Elementary School.
Students immediately craned their heads to get a glimpse of their own rock and pointed out each other’s excitedly.
“It makes me want to cry, seeing their faces,” said Alisha Higgins, who teaches kindergarten.
The Rock Your Uniqueness project began after Heather Dowd, a first-grade teacher, saw a blog post about the children’s book “Only One You,” by Linda Kranz, and how it had spurred on a rock garden movement to showcase students’ individuality. In the book, Kranz paints fish on rocks to share words of wisdom and celebrate differences.
When the idea of Monocacy Elementary doing their own rock garden was shared with Anna Claire Ayoub, the general music teacher and leader of the school’s STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — team, she was immediately on board and decided she wanted to implement it as a school-wide project.
“I wanted something they [students] could look back on and say ‘wow, it’s so cool that I did that,’” Ayoub said.
To have the project move forward with an educational connection, students read Kranz’s book in class and had lesson plans built around it. They then spent time painting rocks to express their “uniqueness.”
The project “helped build our relationships. We learned so much about the kids, because they really put what they love on the rocks,” Dowd said.
Initially, the rocks were going to be laid out in a winding river design along the perimeter of the school, but two fifth-graders, Nicolas Mercado and Sergio Yepez, decided a design that more accurately depicted their school would be better.
“If we just put in the river, no one is going to know who we are,” Sergio said.
“‘MoES’ represents our school,” Nicolas said. “It represents everyone at Monocacy.”
The rocks are permanent. They are stuck to the ground with concrete and liquid glue. Seven hundred rocks make up the design — one painted by every student and staff members as well as a few others from the Monocacy community, including a few bus drivers and custodians.
There were rocks painted with rainbows and smiley faces, flowers and basketballs, and even one with Clifford the Big Red Dog.
“It really allowed some kids to shine that don’t shine in other places,” Higgins said.
“The fact that they can express themselves and say ‘this is what makes me, me.’ ... It was so special to each one of them,” Ayoub said. “Everybody has a story.”
Monocacy Elementary plans to continue the tradition and have each incoming class of students paint a rock and add it to the design, eventually making a path that will loop around the school.