‘Think before you speak’

Krystle Wagner • Jan 30, 2018 at 12:00 PM

FRUITPORT TWP. — Creative. Caring. Smart. Those were some of the ways that Fruitport High School students and staff described each other Monday morning.

As part of The Chalkboard Project, they wrote positive comments in place of negative and hurtful words that were previously etched on chalkboards alongside black-and-white portraits hanging throughout the school.

The Chalkboard Project is aimed at promoting empathy and changing negative perceptions. It started at Spring Lake High School last year, and is now being rolled out in a handful of West Michigan high schools.

Senior Kaylah Griffin proposed bringing the project to Fruitport as a way to break false perceptions about herself and fellow classmates.

Last month, more than 300 staff and students had their pictures taken along with a negative misconception about themselves.

It was a vulnerable experience that left sophomore Charlie Swartz a little scared that people might make fun of him. Ultimately, Swartz said he felt comforted that many of his classmates also put themselves out there.

“It’s sad people say that stuff in the first place,” said Swartz, 15.

The portraits were displayed in the school’s hallways for about two weeks prior to Monday’s celebration. Seeing the pictures was heartbreaking, Griffin said.

Prior to seeing the negative words on the chalkboards, senior Breeann Lawrence said she didn’t realize how many things people have been called.

“It was shameful,” she said.

Senior Madison Bush said the project is “amazing” and she believes it helps students feel better.

In the weeks and years to come, Swartz said he hopes his classmates remember that, for every one negative thing said about them, there are many people there to remind them of their positive qualities.

Danielle Hershey, a teacher and the school’s National Honor Society adviser, said she noticed that students took time writing uplifting and meaningful comments. She said she hopes students carry the experience with them and they remember it before acting, generalizing or speaking.

“For those that used this opportunity to free themselves from the negative words and misconceptions, I hope today helped them see their value and worth, and that they are not alone,” Hershey said.

As classmates used markers to write positive comments, Griffin said that hopefully the new words will cancel out the negative words. And she hopes the project has a lasting impression on her classmates.

“Think before you speak,” she said.

Throughout the day, Hershey heard a positive buzz in her classes and the school’s hallways stemming from the morning celebration.

“It was a fantastic project that brought to light what negative misconceptions/perceptions do to us, and I am so thankful to Spring Lake and their Chalkboard Project Team for walking us through this project,” she said.

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