For many years, members of the Special Services Parent Advisory Committee (SSPAC) have spearheaded disability awareness programs at elementary schools such as Welcome to My World. Through that program, students wear blindfolds or cover their ears and in other ways capture the experience of living with a disability.
SSPAC member Cyndi Spear said the group had for several years wanted to spread the effort to the junior highs. This school year, the SSPAC did just that, with the support of the City of Lake Oswego and Down Syndrome Network of Oregon.
"This year, we have been working with the principals and leadership class teachers at Lake Oswego and Lakeridge junior highs to get the program 'Spread the Word to End the Word' to be embraced by the students," Spear said.
The slogan is from a national campaign about the r-word (a reference to the archaic term mental retardation) that participants here and across the country want to stamp out, in favor of more modern terms related to disabilities. Spear said the program is "still percolating at LOJ," but it debuted at Lakeridge Junior High on June 1. The event was the culmination of weeks of planning by a half-dozen students in the leadership group at Lakeridge Junior High, led by teacher Kelsey Bowers. Seventh-graders Ella Bartel, Jackson Coder, Kaitlyn Weidlich and Kiersten Weiler and eighth-graders Cameron Clayton and Aidan Rolstad were the students leaders of the effort.
Students passed out light-blue wristbands that said "Spread the Word to End the Word" and wore T-shirts emblazoned with the same slogan and the school's signature lightning bolt. And perhaps most importantly, students signed a banner pledging to not use the r-word — and staff hung the banner at the school for all to see.
Many students were unaware that the use of the word was still a problem, but leadership students kept track of the use of the word throughout the day and heard it an average of 57 times.
"As kids were signing the banner, they were really positive about why they were doing it, some even said that they were glad we were bringing awareness to this and that they thought it was an important topic," Bowers said.