Inclusion project expands to Fruitport

Krystle Wagner • Dec 14, 2017 at 1:00 PM

FRUITPORT TWP. — As each Fruitport High School student and staff member sat on the stool for their photo, they held a chalkboard with a negative word they had previously been called.

The black-and-white images are part of The Chalkboard Project, which aims to change negative perceptions and promote empathy. The project was launched at Spring Lake High School last year.

Fruitport staff and students will kick off the new semester next month by covering the negative words and replacing them with positive ones about the individual pictured.

Although Fruitport is the first school besides Spring Lake to participate in the project, there are plans to expand to additional local high schools. Before launching the project last year, Jennifer Gwinnup, an art teacher at Spring Lake High School, had considered the idea over the years as a way to unify people.

Fruitport senior Kaylah Griffin had the idea to bring the project to her school after seeing the project on Instagram. The 17-year-old said she felt the project would be beneficial for herself and others who might have false perceptions being spread about them.

Another Fruitport senior, Aurora Wilks, said the project hits close to home because she has been called hurtful names.

When the FHS National Honor Society students brought the idea to advisor Danielle Hershey, she said she saw the power behind the images.

Spring Lake students helped show the Fruitport students how to run the project. Wilks and Griffin said working alongside the Spring Lake students was helpful, and the relaxed environment they created helped to put everyone at ease.

Expanding the project to Fruitport also gave students from both schools the chance to build relationships, since their interactions have mostly been as rivals in competitive sports.

Wilks and Griffin said they didn’t anticipate how vulnerable they would feel having their picture taken with words they had been called. When Griffin held her chalkboard, she was nearly moved to tears.

“The more you think about it, the more you realize words matter,” Griffin said.

Fruitport’s images will be on The Chalkboard Project’s website and social media accounts. The pictures will also be edited, printed and hung in the school’s hallways prior to next month’s celebration. 

The Fruitport school’s Chalkboard Project committee is currently seeking donations of markers and money to help fund the supplies and cost of printing the pictures. The Boer Family Fund has provided a grant to help pay for a camera, lighting, backdrop, camera lens and bag.

Griffin said she feels the experience has already helped bring her classmates closer together.

Hershey, a Fruitport High School teacher, said she hopes the project will be therapeutic, help dispel perceptions, and make people stop and think before saying hurtful things. 

Hershey had her picture taken with the word “judgmental.” As she waited in line with the students, she said the kids commented that they had never perceived her that way.

“It was powerful,” Hershey said.

Gwinnup said they’re also planning on taking the project to Mona Shores, Grand Haven and Forest Hills Eastern high schools. A few other schools have also expressed interest, she said. Gwinnup said they’re also working out some kinks so they can write a manual to send to schools farther away.

During the summer, Gwinnup and students did a live installation of the project during an art festival in Nebraska.

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