Eau Claire middle school students are hearing presentations this week about the damaging and painful effects of using the “R word.”
The Best Buddies club, which pairs students with developmentally-disabled students, gave presentations on Monday in social studies classes at DeLong Middle School, and those speeches will continue today.
This is part of a nationwide campaign “Spread the Word to End the R Word.” The annual campaign has been going for several years.
“The ‘R word’ hurts,” said a five-and-a-half-minute video the students watched. “It’s insulting. It’s offensive. It’s wrong.”
The video gave examples of children who have Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or are blind.
“Look past the disability, see the person,” the video said.
Teri Piper Thompson, partnership coordinator at DeLong Middle School, said that all students were asked at the conclusion of the presentation to stand and recite a pledge to not use the word, then they all signed a paper pledge.
“That pledge is going to go up in the cafeteria,” Thompson said. “We’ll have a big banner, and class by class, we’ll display them.”
Sarah Binder, special education teacher for the past 18 years at DeLong, said the best Buddies Club has been around for 10 years, and the school has offered the talks about the damaging effects of using the word.
“We’re spreading the word of inclusion,” Binder said. “It goes to what DeLong tries to do of being an inclusive school.”
Binder said the campaign has shown to be effective.
“They know to be kind and to show respect,” Binder said. “Kids do that if given the opportunity.”
If adults hear a student use the word, the student is reminded to be respectful and kind, and that they signed a pledge to not use the word.
“It gives us a common language, and I think that is powerful,” Binder said.
Hannah Hoberg, an eighth-grader in the Best Buddies club, gave the presentation, urging her classmates to move past using the derogatory word.
“It’s about the importance of promoting inclusion,” she said.
Hoberg said she enjoys being paired with classmates and helping them to learn. Hoberg is considering becoming a special education teacher.
“It’s incredibly fun and extremely rewarding,” Hoberg said. “I love the friendships we’re making. It’s a great group to be involved in.”
Thompson said there are about 1,100 students in the building, and they will all hear the presentation. Thompson said students have to apply to be members of the Best Buddies club, where they meet once a month.