Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lincoln's high school students made my heart smile!

Students work to stop use of 'r' word
By MARGARET REIST / Lincoln Journal Star
Monday, Dec 08, 2008 - 02:58:58 pm CST

The success of the North Star Student Council’s latest project became abundantly clear to its president, Lindsey Homeyer, during a recent calculus class.

The teacher, a substitute who was messing with a highlighter as she stood at the whiteboard, unthinkingly said, “This thing is retarded.”

The students responded in unison.

“No, it’s ridiculous!”

Right there, in the middle of a discussion about derivatives, was proof: The council’s efforts had made a real difference. Their goal was to redirect students’ (and teachers’) careless — and hurtful — use of what the council dubbed the “R” word.

In today’s high school hallways, the word is commonly used in slang, uttered with little regard to its effect.

“People throw it around like it’s nothing,” said Schyler Hearn, another senior and chairwoman of the project. “We just wanted to put out the positive message that this is wrong.”

The idea came from their sponsor, teacher Mike Musil. The issue — reducing use of the word — came up last year at a national student council conference.

He mentioned it to this year’s council members, and they enthusiastically took it from there.

They came up with “R” word awareness week.

Each day, they decided, they’d make announcements over the loudspeaker, giving students information about mentally challenged people.

They’d try to educate students about how many people there are with mental disabilities, about how many families are affected. And they’d try to point out how hurtful the word is to those who know someone with a mental disability.

They ordered T-shirts for council members and white wrist bands for the whole school that said: Stop and think! Don’t be Re … diculous.

They made pledge cards and decided to set up a table in the lunchroom. Each day, a council member would sit at a table with a small pile of pledge cards and wristbands.

Students who signed the card pledging not to use the word would get a wristband.

Before they started, they gave all the teachers a wristband and sent them an e-mail explaining their plans.

They picked a week in November and weren’t sure what to expect.

They knew it was a touchy subject, and they were afraid they’d offend. They worried people wouldn’t take it seriously, that immaturity would override the message.

They were wrong.

“It’s been totally opposite of that,” Lindsey said. “It’s kept going. I’m very proud of it.”

During that week, 350-some students signed the blue pledge cards, which cover a hallway wall.

Council members would hear students catch themselves mid-word.

“That’s re … diculous.”

The council members didn’t want to be pushy about the issue; they didn’t want to get into their fellow students’ faces about it.

They’re students, too, and they’ve said the word without thinking because it’s the way people talk.

“It’s just a cultural thing,” Schyler said.

Amanda Howard, student council vice president, said she’s been around medical places a lot and had thought about the connotation of the word. But she hadn’t thought much about it.

“I tried not to use it but did, without thinking about it,” she said.

Lindsey said now she finds the word ridiculous creeping into her vocabulary all the time, even when she wouldn’t have used the other “R” word.

The best thing, though, is seeing the campaign’s effects continuing since it ended.

“The greatest reward is seeing people stop themselves,” Lindsey said.

The project’s success has encouraged the council members to continue their efforts.

They’ve still got lots of bracelets. So they’ve called middle school principals to see if they’d be interested in doing a similar project. And they’re hoping it might catch on at other high schools.

The three seniors who spearheaded the campaign say they hope it becomes an annual event at North Star. Students already have suggested other words that could be targeted. Such as “gay.”

North Star is still a new school, Lindsey said, and it’s hard to start traditions. They hope this becomes one, and if it spreads, well, it started here, with this student council.

“Our hope is this becomes a tradition, and everyone’s excited about the word of the year,” she said.

That would be anything but ridiculous. That would be remarkable.

Reach Margaret Reist at 473-7226 or


All 4 My Gals said...

That is incredible!

Shannon @ Gabi's World said...

I love it, Michelle! Thanks so much for sharing it with me!