BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Three Rhinelander High School students spent part of their lunch period at a table to the side of the commons area Wednesday. On the table, draped with a purple banner, was a big bowl of candy and behind it a poster doubling as a pledge form filled with a mess of signatures.
“We’re trying to spread the word to end the word, the R-word,” said RHS senior Hannah Karstedt. “It’s hurtful to special ed kids and to other kids.”
Karstedt is a member of the Project Unify club and has participated in this annual March 1 Spread the Word event for four years. The R-
word stands for “retarded,” a word that at one point in history was a clinical description but morphed into an insult used to degrade people with intellectual disabilities, and those without.
“We want [students] to be mindful of their language and using kind words and that words can be so hurtful,” said RHS special education teacher Shelley Lehman. “We have also pushed out to the teachers short little curriculums that they can incorporate into their lesson plans during the week to get conversations started.”
This is the first year student Emily Wells has been a member of Project Unify.
“We’re spreading awareness,” she said. “It’s not something that a lot of people talk about so it’s good to acknowledge it like this.”
Jada Appling’s sister is part of the special ed group. Appling also joined the club just this year.
“My mom persuaded me, but it’s also me seeing that it’s not fair these kids get frowned upon just because they’re a little different—but really they’re not,” Appling said. “I wanted to do something for my sister.”
The intent of the Project Unify club is to promote inclusion in the community and the school, Lehman said. The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign is making a difference, Lehman said, because each year they have had more and more participation.
“There have been more opportunities where our students have been included,” Lehman explained. “We’ve had different sports teams invite the students to practice with them and participate with them. I see little changes like that happening within the school which is exactly what we want.”
For more information on the R-word campaign, visit www.rword.org.