Upper Arlington News

Students campaign to end use of the 'R-word'

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Upper Arlington High School students (from left) Elizabeth Files, Steven Michael and Ranine Ailabouni are among those who have volunteered to collect pledges and sell T-shirts in support of a "Spread the Word to End the Word" effort.

It's a word that's batted around as a joke sometimes, but it's a painful word for students in Kim Wilson's multiple disabilities class at Upper Arlington High School.

The word is "retard" or "retarded," also known as the "R-word" to Wilson's students.

"It hurts people's feelings, like my feelings," junior Steven Michael said. "People don't say it around me because I remind them."

Wilson's students and a number of students from other classes are selling T-shirts this week and asking for pledges to support eliminating the use of the "R-word."

Spread the Word to End the Word is a national movement in schools across the country. This is the third year it has been an effort for Wilson's classes.

"Our theme is to 'Be a Fan of Respect,' so we really emphasize the importance of being nice to all people, no matter what they look like or how they act," Wilson said.

She said her class gets together once a month with students in a multiple disabilities class at Gahanna Lincoln High School.

"They ran the project at their school and had great success," she said. "They encouraged us to bring it to UAHS."

Wilson said she began the project this year by showing past years' public service announcements about the Spread the Word movement.

"The students did some writing about how they would feel if someone called them a name and why it's important to treat others nicely," she said. "We also worked on a PSA (public service announcement) to be aired on our school's news program, Kickin' it Live."

Her students had plenty to say about the R-word.

"Don't say retard or retarded during school," freshman Ralph Augostini said. "It's important because it's not nice to say -- that's why we are selling these T-shirts."

Senior Alec McArthur agreed.

"The R-word is bad," he said. "We should not say the R-word at school."

"It's important to be nice to your friends," junior Christina Shea said.

Wilson said the pledge cards state, "I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities."

"We are then hanging the pledge cards in the main hallway so that everyone can see the support their classmates have shown," she said. "The black and gold T-shirts say 'Spread the Word to End the Word' with the UA logo on front. On the back, they say 'Be a Fan of Respect.'"

The T-shirts cost $10 each.

Wilson said a number of high school students have told her they are spreading the word nationwide by wearing the T-shirt on their trips out of state.

"I had a helper send me an e-mail saying that he was on a trip to Kentucky and had his shirt on in the hotel when someone asked about it," she said. "He was then able to share some information about the movement with them."

She said last week a student told her that a friend moved to Colorado and wore her T-shirt to her new school.

"Her friends in Colorado asked about her shirt and she was able to tell them all about it," Wilson said. "It is really neat that our students understand the importance of the movement and are not afraid to share it with others nationwide."

She said the goal of the project is to get everyone thinking about how their words affect others.

"We don't want it to be just about the R-word and our students with disabilities," she said. "The R-word is just a starting point for the overall message of respecting others.

"The most important thing is that all students, no matter what their ability level, can promise to treat each other with respect," she said.

Wilson said the movement goes "beyond words."

"It is about teaching students to always think of others," she said. "What a great skill to have. It is something that will get you far in life, no matter where you end up."

Anyone interested in buying a T-shirt may email Wilson at kwilson@uaschools.org.

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