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‘It gives me chills’

Krystle Wagner • Mar 22, 2018 at 10:00 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — The positive qualities of the school’s staff and students were the focus at Grand Haven High School on Wednesday afternoon.

For more than a week, they walked by the more than 700 black and white portraits of fellow GHHS students and staff members holding a chalkboard with negative or hurtful words that had been said about them. Those words were covered Wednesday, and positive words were written in their place.

The Chalkboard Project, which started at Spring Lake High School last year, aims to change negative perceptions and promote empathy.

After seeing the celebration in Spring Lake last year, a group of GHHS students wanted to bring the project to their school.

Madison Chapel, one of the students who brought the project to GHHS, said seeing the portraits was “powerful.” The GHHS junior said she thinks there has been a shift with more empathy among fellow students.

In walking through the halls, Chapel said she was surprised by some of the names people had been called, and she didn’t realize anyone was capable of being so cruel.

As the colorful pieces covering the chalkboards filled with positive words, Chapel said she looked forward to seeing the outcome once everyone had finished.

When junior Macey Crowell had her picture taken, she decided to smile as she held her chalkboard.

“It hurts, but I’m strong because of it,” she said.

Crowell, 17, said she participated because she had been bullied; however, she wanted people to realize that their words can impact people, but she doesn’t let it get her down.

Crowell thought it was great to bring the project to GHHS. She saw friends from Spring Lake posting pictures on their social media accounts and noted the positivity that followed.

When Crowell saw the GHHS portraits for the first time, she said it was eye-opening to read what people have been called.

Freshmen Justin Cobb and Carson Sandwick said seeing the pictures shed a light on what people go through. Sandwick, 15, said it isn’t good that so many people have been impacted by hurtful names, but it was encouraging seeing the positivity.

Students received sponsorships from Grand Haven Custom Molding, Multi Lab and Scholten Fant to fund the project at GHHS.

The community had a chance to see the project firsthand Wednesday evening.

Cynthia Smeyers slowly walked throughout the hallway looking at the portraits. She said her daughter participated in the project, and she looked forward to seeing the positive things her classmates wrote.

“It’s a great project,” Smeyers said.

Nicole Caauwe-Osborn said she hadn’t heard about the project until her daughter explained it to her and got involved in the committee to launch it at GHHS. Caauwe-Osborn, who works in mental health at the Robert Brown Crisis Center in Holland, said it takes courage for the kids to participate in the project, and having staff members also participate shows the students they have support.

Caauwe-Osborn said the project is “amazing” and it’s humbling to see.

“It gives me chills,” she said.

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