Students at Jones Middle Schools aim to lift spirits of Upper Arlington residents during pandemic

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Nicole Holder, an intervention specialist and multiple-disabilities teacher at Jones Middle School, works with Reid Hudson to paint a positivity rock for a service-learning project. Students are painting positive messages on rocks then placing them throughout the community.

As autumn temperatures dip, a group of Jones Middle School students hopes to boost the spirits of the community with randomly placed positive messages. 

For the past three years, multiple-disabilities students at the school developed vocational skills by performing a multitude of classroom-aide tasks for teachers, as well as working in the school's coffee shop where they took drink orders and delivered fresh java each Friday to teachers and other staff members. 

The job-training program was scrapped this year because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

Despite that, Nicole Holder, an intervention specialist at Jones who teaches the multiple-disabilities class for students in sixth- through eighth-grades, found a new way to institute service-learning into her curriculum. 

Aided by ideas from her students, the JMS Rock Project was launched through which Holder’s eighth-grade students have studied different aspects of health – from physical health to mental, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. 

Students in the multiple disabilities class at Jones Middle School have painted positive messages on rocks that they then place around the community to lift spirits during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Subsequently, she said, her students have painted more than 150 rocks with messages designed to remind people of “the joy that comes from positivity and amidst a tough year, we are all here to lift each other up” and scatter them randomly throughout Upper Arlington. 

“More than anything, I hope our students are reminded of the impact that each one of them does have in their community,” she said. “These students are empathetic, caring and kind individuals that work so hard in every aspect of their lives. They have developed this service-learning project to help their families, their friends, their neighbors, the community to remember that there is still so much to be grateful for and positive about amidst a tough year.” 

Many of Holder’s students are nonverbal or have difficulties writing. 

But several were able to communicate their thoughts about the project and said they hoped the simple messages on the rocks would be uplifting. 

Eighth-grader Anne McGreevy said one of her rocks encouraged anyone who finds it to make a wish and remember that “kindness matters, and love.” 

Cole Griffin, a Jones Middle School eighth-grader, places a positivity rock near a tree Oct. 26.

“If people are feeling sad, the kind words will make them feel better,” she said. “It is important because I want to make people feel better. 

“People are not feeling good during the pandemic. I hope they feel better and happy.” 

Fellow eighth-grader Cole Griffith echoed those thoughts. 

“I remember I put a smiley face, ‘Be happy,’ and ‘You got this’ on my rocks,” he said. “I put those messages on the rocks because it’s important for everyone to feel better.” 

Griffith added he painted the images and messages for people to see “because they might love it.” 

Likewise, eighth-grader Cameron Dobson said he painted, “Bears Strong, Be Happy!” and a smiley face on his rocks “to make people happy.” 

“I want them to feel love,” Dobson added. 

Students began distributing the rocks around the community the week of Oct. 26. Holder said she hopes to carry out the project for at least the next several weeks. 

“Something that has been very important to my philosophy with our vocational training is providing our students with real, meaningful work that is contributive to their communities – work that has a purpose and allows them to be active members of their community,” she said. “While this project is giving back to the community, we are working on vocational skills, reading comprehension from the articles on health and COVID we've read, applicable math while charting on graphs our progress with making and delivering rocks, real-world math operation, fine motor skills and social skills by coming up with positive messages to share with people when they are feeling down. 

“This service-learning project is absolutely benefiting our community but is providing my students with the most wholistic, applicable learning opportunities that we have been able to have all year.” 

People who find any of the rocks can share the experience with the class by emailing jmsrockproject@gmail.com so students can track “the social and emotional impact that this project is having in the community of Upper Arlington and hopefully, beyond UA,” Holder said.  

“We identify how we are feeling and why we are feeling certain ways on a regular basis,” she said. “This helps my students cope with situations that are less than ideal and helps identify how they are feeling and what strategies they need to access in order to help change their moods if needed.” 

Holder said the foundation for the rock project began to take shape last spring when school buildings were shut down because of the pandemic. 

During that quarter, as students learned online, her class spent time working through “incredibly tough emotions,” she said. 

“It was then that I realized that COVID was affecting everyone, whether people are able and willing to connect it to COVID or not,” she said. “A pandemic, as unfortunate as it is, provided me the opportunity to connect and put us all on the same level with these health aspects. 

“The adults, myself and my paraprofessionals, and our students have this common experience we are all living through and being affected by, so it made for such an important topic in our classroom – this year more than ever.” 

Holder said the project is another way to help students identify and pursue goals to enhance their functionality and grow into successful adults and community members when they leave Upper Arlington Schools. 

She said service-learning is an especially powerful tool for all students because it connects giving back to the community to a learning target or standard that occurs in the classroom. 

“The rocks and positive messages were a way to meet the community that is dealing with this common experience of COVID and putting smiles on people's faces while providing amazing learning opportunities in and outside the classroom,” Holder said. “This project allows for a spectrum of students to have an opportunity to impact our community in this meaningful way.” 

nellis@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNate