Book Inspires Special, Unique Rock Garden at Lee

During March Madness reading month, 16 books are selected to be part of a book tournament bracket in the school. Each week after reading the two books matched up for the week, students vote on their favorite. One of the books in the bracket this year was called “Hidden Gem” by Linda Liu, and it sparked a whole school project. 

In the book, a small pebble sees glittering gemstones, geodes and crystals on display in the Museum of Rocks. It makes the little pebble wonder if he can be special too. He hopes to find answers in the gem exhibition, but maybe, instead, he will find the answer inside himself.

“It reminds us all that everyone is different and everyone has something special and unique inside them,” said second-grade teacher Stephanie Woods.

Students quickly chimed in with good messages they took away from the story  -  be yourself, don’t change who you are for anybody else, you are important, you are special, and everyone is different and unique. 

Lee art teacher Becky Branch likes to incorporate books into her art lessons and chose “Hidden Gem” as a book that would fit perfectly with an art project. After reading the book, students painted their own beautiful rocks with bright colors and positive messages. Harder & Warner Nursery donated rocks for all the students at Lee to paint and the Lee PTO paid for additional paint for the rocks. 

But there’s still another chapter to this story. 

Before students painted their rocks, they also learned about a woman named Janis Fitzgerald, who was a strong volunteer at Thornapple Kellogg Schools and leader in the community before her passing in 2021. Janis started putting painted rocks along the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail and encouraged others to do so as well.  It was a way to celebrate the beautiful trail, her own love of art and nature, and a way to give back to her community.

“I remember they said she (Janis) helped out the schools a lot and she painted rocks and put them on the trail to make people happy,” said third-grader Mina McKeown.

“The kids were really interested in learning about someone in their own community,” said Branch. “I think it inspired them to know someone right here could do something so special and they could do it, too. We wanted them to have a positive message or just create something bright and cheerful.”

Branch said she was amazed at how much thought students put into their rocks and how proud they are of what they’ve made. Some painted their rocks to look like red, yellow or blue ladybugs, colorful butterflies, black and yellow bees, and green turtles - some even added miniature googly eyes. There were lots of rocks painted with a yellow sun and some with a beautiful rainbow.  Some added positive words like “Bee YOU!” “Help Others,” “Shine,” “You are Amazing,” and, of course, “You Rock!”

Originally the plan was to have classes visit the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail in Middleville and leave rocks along the trail. “But we started thinking that maybe 450 painted rocks was a little too much and so we decided to use them outside the school to brighten up the entrance and remind all the students here that they are all special,” said Woods.

“It’s like our own little rock museum,” said McKeown. “It makes me feel happy.”

Third-grader Jacob Quint said he likes seeing the rocks outside. “We got to make our own rocks in our own way so there aren’t any exactly alike. It’s just like how everybody is different too.”

Scarlett Eldridge, a second-grader, said she loves seeing the rocks outside the school. “It was a really fun project and now we get to see it every day.”

Second-grade classmates Caroline McCarty said she hopes the rocks make everyone smile and Aubrey Walsh said she really enjoyed the project and the story. Eloise Schuck said she liked the project because everyone’s rock is different just like everyone in the school is different.

Branch and Woods said they hope to make this an annual project and keep adding to the beautiful and inspiring rock garden. More importantly, they say, they want to keep reminding students each day that they each have something special inside of them - just like the rock in “Hidden Gem.”