The Chalkboard Project draws media attention, praise

by Ashleigh Higgs, News

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Spring Lake art teacher, Mrs. Jen Gwinnup, along with students Joe Negen, and Julia Clover have started something big. Their homegrown program, The Chalkboard Project has quickly gone from mere gossip to a nationally recognized venture. The project was proposed by the trio as a way to combat bullying in the school’s community.

As part of The Chalkboard Project, students had their pictures taken holding a chalkboard, on which they were invited to write a derogatory word they have been called. These photos were printed in large black and white posters, then hung around each school hall for all students, staff, and visitors to view.

However, on Tuesday, April 25, the stage got a little bigger as viewers from all over the world watched The Chalkboard Project take off. The local newspaper, The Grand Haven  Tribune, along with WZZM 13 were in Spring Lake to cover the event.

During a monthly Whole Child event, the leaders of The Chalkboard Project, along with Mrs. Gwinnup’s IB Art class, fulfilled the project’s original mission. Colorful blank papers were placed over the negative words, leaving a new, empty space for positive ones to replace them.

Students of Spring Lake High School wandered the halls that day with Sharpies in hand, writing positive words for everyone to see. “I wanted the impact to come from the fact that everyone has ‘words’: negative things they have been called or misconceptions they have battled,” says Jennifer Gwinnup, the beloved art teacher behind it all. Gwinnup said she has been planning this project out in her mind for years, waiting for the perfect opportunity to present itself; that opportunity happened to come in the form of the Whole Child initiative.

Gwinnup does not claim that she has changed the world. On the contrary, she recognizes that students get out of the experience what they put into it: “I have seen a shift in those who understood the gravity of the project and allowed themselves to be vulnerable both as a participant and a viewer.” There is no doubt that what The Chalkboard Project has provided for Spring Lake is incomparable to anything the school has seen before.

It doesn’t stop here though. Mike Smith, a public advocacy speaker who visited Spring Lake a month ago, will be holding a live Chalkboard Project in Lincoln, Nebraska, and has asked the Spring Lake team to join him. In addition to that honor, the photos from the halls will be submitted in Grand Rapids’ Art Prize 2017. This is only the beginning of the change that The Chalkboard Project has planned for the world.

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