- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 10, 2020

ROCHESTER, N.H. (AP) - While the rest of their classmates enjoyed time off and trips, nine Rochester Middle School students spent part of the February vacation in their school, spreading kindness through the halls.

The sixth- and eighth-grade students posted two different supportive messages on all 900 RMS lockers as part of an ongoing “positivity project” aimed at increasing student empathy and reducing common middle school problems.

“It changes the stereotype,” said eighth-grader Emily Buinicky, 14. ”(It allows students) to see, ‘Wow, they’re really there for me, I have a place here and I’m OK.’”

The project was spearheaded by Buinicky, fellow eighth-graders Hannah Dorfman, Emily Finnegan and Hannah Vaughan, and sixth-graders Caiden Brand, Hannah Cope, Sydney Daly, Ava Gannon and Olivia Ostness.

The idea, outlined in instructions the group taped to the lockers, was for students to keep one of the quotes in a visible place for themselves.

The other quote was meant for the student to give away to anyone - in or outside of school - they believed would benefit from receiving it.

The quotes included colorful images and messages like “You only live once but if you do it right once is enough,” “Be the reason someone smiles today,” “Don’t let the things you want make you forget the things you have” and “Broken crayons still color.”

Vaughan said her favorite is one that tells a story about a person throwing a single starfish back in the ocean. The person is asked why they’d take the time to throw one starfish when there are others who need similar assistance.

“It just reminds me how one person can spread kindness,” said Vaughan, 14. “Even though you can’t touch everyone, you can help one person.”

Assistant Principal Kristen White said she particularly likes the crayon message because many people are quick to throw away people they perceive to be broken or inadequate.

“We’re all broken,” said White. “There’s nobody who’s perfect. Everyone’s good a something. That’s what makes us all awesome.”

Walking the halls Tuesday morning, the second day back from vacation, many lockers still bared at least one message. Some displayed several messages, while others were either nearly or completely covered.

The best part so far has been seeing everyone’s reaction and “joy,” said Ostness, 12.

“I didn’t know (they were going to do this),” said sixth-grader Destiny Rouleau, 12, as she accessed her locker Tuesday. “It helped me feel great and have positivity.”

The project is one of several empowering efforts the group has undertaken this year.

Before school started, six of the students also painted supportive messages and inclusive images inside RMS’ most-used bathrooms.

The group spearheads RMS’ annual welcome back event in which other students, staff and Rochester School Board members line the entrance and high-five and greet sixth-graders as they enter for their first day of school.

They’ve also wheeled snack carts around the school to deliver goodies to teachers and advocated for their fellow students to teachers and administrators.

“It started small and it’s grown,” said White. “They’re not out there as a way to say, ‘Look what I’m doing,’ but ‘How can I make my school better?’ The eighth-graders have taken the sixth-graders under their wing. It’s been great.”

White said she hopes the locker quotes and other positivity projects continue to grow and inspire other efforts in the school and community.

“If there’s another big thing from this, I hope it tells students, ‘If you have an idea, go to someone about it,’” said White. “It’s gotten bigger and better than all of us probably would’ve imagined.”

Online: https://bit.ly/2VWKaef


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