Chalkboard changes perspectives

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Addy Wachter

Sophomore Grace Compagner poses for her photo. "I would hope this would have people realize that we have way more impact on others than you would think," senior Kammi Jarvis said.

By Addy Wachter, Grand Haven High School

Jennifer Gwinnup, art teacher at Spring Lake High School, is known for “just teach[ing] an elective” by the other staff members at her school. According to some, art isn’t as important as the other classes and it isn’t a hard class to teach; art is just an elective and nothing else. Even though it stings a little when someone says this to her, Gwinnup doesn’t let this phrase define her, her teaching, or her class.
The Chalkboard Project is an anti-bullying campaign. It allows students to share a word that someone has called them or a phrase that has affected them in a negative way.
“The Chalkboard Project is an art installation that is designed to build empathy within communities and address the way we speak to each other,” said Jennifer Gwinnup, an art teacher who started the campaign at Spring Lake High School.
Gwinnup has had this vision in the back of her mind for a while now and it has finally come to life and has grown in ways she didn’t expect.
“I always imagined a moment in the morning when all my students walk into the building and see that everybody has a word or everybody’s been through a similar thing,” Gwinnup said. “My utopia would be 100 percent participation.”
Two years ago, it came across the bridge to Grand Haven when former student Madison Chapel and Haley Bathke organized a Chalkboard Project event for GHHS. Chapel and Bathke asked then-sophomores Kirsten Dykstra and Kammi Jarvis to help the project stay organized and run smoothly.
“When I heard about it and researched it a little bit more, I thought it was an awesome project. I’d never seen anything like it before,” Dykstra said. “Scrolling through Spring Lake’s Instagram, the pictures had a huge impact on me. It made me realize how hurtful even simple comments can be towards people.”
With a long list of student suicides in Grand Haven and Spring Lake, the students and staff members of the two schools wanted to see a change in the way people talked to each other.
That was the root of this whole issue: negative comments breaking individuals down.
“This project was started in order to combat those mean names and hateful ideas we have about other people,” Dykstra said. “We want everyone to feel more included and help the mental health of high schoolers around this area.”
So far, stories have been shared and memories have been created by many different individuals. Students and staff members alike are being complimented in ways they have never been before.
“I’m just happy that people are now realizing that words have more of an impact on an everyday person than someone would like to admit,” Jarvis said. “Words are more powerful than what people intend them to be.”
Students write their word or phrase on a small chalkboard and hold it in front of them for a picture. The pictures will hang in the hallway and after a couple of weeks, a colorful sticky note will cover the word.
Students will then go around the hallways and write down positive words that replace the negative ones, words that will build each other up rather than tearing them down. This part is called the “celebration”.
“I feel like a lot of times, some students feel left out or like they don’t have friends or a group to hang out with,” Dykstra said. “But when everybody writes on each other’s chalkboards, it really shows you how many people are there for you and how many people care about you.”
For some it can be difficult to positively compliment people without in turn feeling uncomfortable. This project has created an outlet for positive energy without the awkwardness.
“I think it’s important for us to always be trying to heal and to be better versions of ourselves,” Gwinnup said. “I think it’s also important to have honest conversations. I think through the Chalkboard Project, people have a lot of doors that are open for them, that can open up ways to talk about things, both negative and positive.”
The project has grown outside of the community and into places like Lincoln, Nebraska. A countless number of people participated in the new territory for this project, individuals ranging from preschoolers to older adults.
“I really hope that we begin to not only write on papers but say it in real life and transfer what we learned from this project into our everyday life,” Dykstra said. “Be more positive, caring and accepting.”
For those who did not get a chance to participate in this year’s project, don’t fret. The Chalkboard Project will circle back in two more years to help newer classes of students.
“Everybody has a word,” Gwinnup said. “I think everybody, no matter what, can think of something that they’ve been called, or how somebody misinterpreted who they are. Everybody has a story.”

This story was originally published on The Bucs’ Blade on March 3, 2020.