hope rock
A rock painted by a seventh-grade student at West Middle School sits surrounded by fallen pink cherry blossoms. Students painted rocks to help brighten people’s moods throughout town. “The basic idea is that small things can really make a big impact,” said Abhinav Bapanapalli, a student involved in the project. (Photo by Hayley Katz)

The time has come again. After an impossible day of cramming seemingly insignificant knowledge into her head and listening to her tough teachers talk tirelessly, freshman Emma Wiltshire trudges what feels like miles to get to her final destination: downtown Andover. Feeling doubtful that she will be able to complete both her mountain of work and get any sleep, her head falls to the side like a bobble-head, shifting her to gaze to the glistening green grass next to her, which is shining in the glow of the sun. In the grass, she sees a burst of hot pink. Squinting at the unique creation, she leans over and picks it up. The object, a rock, says one word: hope.

This rock, along with many others, was created by a group of seventh-graders at West Middle School called the Compassion Flex. Students in the Compassion Flex have spent hours over the past few months independently researching and working diligently on creating Kindness Rocks, a project that they believe will spread positivity in Andover and to the people in it.

According to Abhinav Bapanapalli, a student in the Compassion Flex, the idea is that “anybody who’s having a bad day in general [can look] down and see something, and it’s almost like it was meant to be for you” and “thinking about how you could really make someone’s day with something small.” After researching and narrowing down many ideas, they decided to make their own take on Kindness Rocks.

The idea for Kindness Rocks was created by Megan Murphy, a kindness activist from Cape Cod. Murphy encourages people around the world to put painted rocks with inspirational messages in public places.

According to an article in Psychology Today, “Words create filters through which people view the world around them.”

Since Kindness Rocks seemingly help others, the trend has become a worldwide phenomenon. Even Michaels, a well known craft store, has begun to sell Kindness Rocks. Although it would have been easy for the Compassion Flex students to go to Michaels and buy rocks, they wanted to put their time, passion, and love into making rocks of their own.

The students took approximately two months to complete the Kindness Rocks, since there was a lot of research and hard work that went into finding and painting the perfect rocks that would make people smile, writing articles to explain to residents of Andover what they have been working on, and finding quotes. “Mainly we all picked quotes that inspired ourselves,” said seventh-grader Avanthika Suryadevara. “The way we decorated the rocks [inspired us too].” Some of the students who are struggling in different areas of their lives such as academics or extracurriculars activities were uplifted by the environment of positivity surrounding them, and that they have the power to help others.

The Kindness Rocks have not only inspired the students but also have had an immediate impact on Andover. “I was walking downtown the other day, and I was kind of tired from school,” Wiltshire recalled. “I looked down and saw a hot pink rock that said hope. It made me smile.”

The colorful rocks are also being brought to different places throughout Andover. According to Suryadevara, the students “brainstormed hashtags so that when people find them they could post it online.” They came up with the hashtag #westmiddlerocks. The students have also noticed that new Kindness Rocks have been created in the garden near the town hall and at Doherty Middle School, showing that their small actions have already had a significant impact on our community.

Throughout the process, students were driven enough to turn this dream into a reality that their Flex teachers, social worker Amanda Maisie, and seventh-grade teacher Holly Loring from West, did not have to take too much initiative; they were able to watch their students create the rocks they had envisioned. “It was completely the students,” said Maisie. “They took a sense of pride: it was really all student-done from start to finish.”

This experience has also played an important role in the student’s social lives as well. They have been able to learn more about one another and make new friends. Making the rocks has allowed the students to enjoy the moments with one another, and shown them a different side to one another that they had not known before.

“Making rocks together has a different feel than working on a project together,” said Bapanapalli.

“It’s like enjoying time together,” added Suryadevara.

The students also shared numerous funny moments along the way. “The hairspray we used to preserve the rocks smelt like a human nail salon, so we had 12- and 13-year-old boys who reacted very strongly,” said Maisie. “Some of them almost dropped their rocks as they were spraying.”

This group of kindhearted seventh-grade students has worked numerous other small-scale projects that will improve the world and the people in it, such as making and sending cards to residents of Texas who were affected by Hurricane Harvey. When watching the news, Bapanapalli said the students wanted to “help people get away from the negative vibes and to look at the positive aspects” instead.

In a world where negativity is becoming so prominent, these young students are proof that kindness still exists.
By Hayley Katz