‘Nobody is alone’

Krystle Wagner • Apr 26, 2017 at 12:00 PM

SPRING LAKE TWP. — Big-hearted. Ambitious. Caring.

Those are among some of the words staff and students used to describe their fellow peers whose black and white portraits are currently hanging in the halls of Spring Lake High School.

On Tuesday, they placed the positive and uplifting comments over words such as different, shallow, fat and annoying.

More than 700 of the school’s staff and students participated in The Chalkboard Project, which is aimed at changing negative perceptions.

Art teacher Jennifer Gwinnup said she’s been mulling over the project idea for a while as a way to unify everyone and let them know everyone deals with something.

Since the project brings up topics that people aren’t always comfortable with discussing, Gwinnup said she’s proud of everyone who participated. She said they were brave and vulnerable.

Students had the option to participate and select the word that hurt them the most.

Sophomore Julia Clover, who was involved in the project, said hearing her peers’ stories about what they have been called and how they felt saddened her.

Sophomore Sam Negen, who helped with the project, said it shows the complexity of words and the impact they can have on someone.

“These experiences are universal, and nobody is alone,” said senior Joe Negen, who was also involved with the project.

When students posted their pictures on social media, 30-40 positive comments typically followed. Clover said she often commented with uplifting messages, even for students she didn’t know.

Joe Negen said that for every one mean thing a person says, there are several more who are there to say something nice.

Although Brigit Hassig saw the pictures on social media, she said walking through the hallways and seeing the images in person was a different experience. Hassig, whose daughter, Isabel Michalak, is a senior at SLHS, said she left the school speechless and emotionally moved because students made themselves vulnerable and they came together to confront bullying.

Hassig said she hopes the community understands the magnitude of the entire student body getting behind the initiative and standing up.

“It’s time to say ‘no more,’” she said. “(Bullying) shouldn’t be tolerated.”

The Chalkboard Project will soon spread outside of the West Michigan area. Later this summer, they plan to conduct a live installation of the project during an art festival in Nebraska alongside national speaker Mike Smith. They also plan to enter the project into Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize.

Gwinnup thanked the students and the community for their support with the project.

“That’s what it took to make it happen,” she said.

For more information about The Chalkboard Project, visit: www.thechalkboardproject.com/.

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