WHITEHALL – Have you ever had someone stick a label on you with a word or words that negatively impacted how you and others view yourself?
Unlike the old children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” which has been a defense against a taunt, words do have a negative impact on a person.
A group of students at Whitehall High School are implementing an art installation and social media movement in their school which they hope will transform the words into positive statements which will help classmates have good self images.
Seniors Gianna Megna, Cole Bennett and Grace Wells have enlisted the help of classmates and English teacher Denis Koegel, to bring The Chalkboard Project to their school as their senior project.
The Chalkboard Project, started last year by Spring Lake High School art teacher Jennifer Gwinnup is a community art installation and social media movement to change those negative words into positive words to describe students. The movement has spread to Fruitport, Grand Haven and Muskegon Mona Shores high schools. And, now to Whitehall High School.
Koegel said this senior project came from a weekly advisory class implemented last year to help serve the needs of students..
“This emphasizes one more time that kids don’t always get a fair shake. That’s not here. This is students taking charge and caring deeply about their peers.”
Koegel said the leaders enlisted the help of 10-12 students in each grade.
And, he said Gwinnup has been a big help.
Megna said they were motivated to engage in this movement as a result of the helplessness they felt when a classmate committed suicide when they were sophomores. “It’s so sad that had to happen for us to realize how we interact with each other.”
The first phase of the project is an art installation at the school in which the power of negative words and attitudes are displayed.
In the student entry hall at the high school on display are photographs of students holding a chalkboard which contains a negative work or words that have hurt them in the past.
Megna said they arranged with The Chalkboard Project staff to take photos of Whitehall students holding the chalkboards. She said the students volunteered to be a part of the project, and over 200 have participated.
Those photographs have also been posted on Instagram as the social media portion of the project.
On Instagram, students have been encouraged to post positive comments about their classmates.
And, this coming Wednesday (Nov. 14), a school and community celebration will be held at the art installation.
That celebration, held during sixth hour, will include Koegel and the students explaining why they engaged in The Chalkboard Project for the school, and the power of positive works.
Then, students will write positive words on colored paper which will have covered up the negative words on the posters.
The celebration will also include a photo booth, and the sale of The Chalkboard Project t-shirts and bracelets.
From 6-7 p.m. the community is invited to an open house to view the project.
“This message cannot be confined to the building,” Cole Bennett said.
Bennett said he friends were cynical about the project, at first, but he convinced one of his friends to do it with him.
Megna said the project is a chance for students to stand up and tell others the negative words are not who they are.
“People called me. This is not who I am and will not define me. I am stronger and can rise over the negativity.”
The students have raised money for the project through raffles at football games, a post game dance, and donations from area businesses.
Koegel said the project has impacted the teaching staff, some of whom have shared the negative words they have experienced.
“As teachers we want to impact every student. It’s an impossible goal. Teachers care so deeply for students.”
Wednesday’s celebration of The Chalkboard Project will be an opportunity for students so show how they care for each other.
Check out #thechalkboardproject and follow @the_chalkboardproject on Instagram.