Oftentimes people don’t think about the impact of their words on others. However, words affect everyone and can leave a lasting impression that is not always positive.

Spring Lake High School Visual Arts Teacher Jennifer Gwinnup says she learned growing up that great teachers go to great lengths to do whatever their students need to feel valued, appreciated, and be the best possible versions of themselves. She saw the impact of hurtful words first hand in many of her students and wanted to help. So, she started The Chalkboard Project to change the way we speak to one another and help spread kindness.

The Chalkboard Project is an art installation and social media campaign launched to overcome negative perceptions with positive truths. Students write a word that has hurt them or a misconception people have of them on a small chalkboard and pose for a picture. A student-led Chalkboard Project committee places the photos throughout the school. Then, during a school-wide “Celebration Event” the entire school comes together to cover the negative chalkboard words with new, positive words that describe each other written on brightly colored paper.

Many participants choose to join the movement on social media as well and post their message using the hashtag #thechalkboardproject.

The project aims to educate the whole child and look at what students need in addition to academics. “The Chalkboard Project works on character building, mental health, phone usage, and other items that aren’t necessarily covered in the daily school curriculum,” Jennifer says.

Staff participates as well to show students that people they encounter on a daily basis also have vulnerabilities and may still carry around hurtful words too.

“They are modeling empathy and that it is ok to be vulnerable which is really important,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer says The Chalkboard Project showed common threads in student feelings, experiences, and that many are craving more authentic experiences and genuine conversations. And students have learned their words can hurt someone.

The project has spread to schools throughout Michigan and as far away as Nebraska.

Spring Lake High School Principal Mike Gilchrist says, “From this, we’ve seen more students recognize that their words did hurt someone. The Chalkboard Project is changing lives and impacting students in a very positive way. It’s by far the most powerful thing I’ve ever seen.”

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