Students, Parents Rally Against 'R' Word
Hundreds marched to discourage the use of a word that's offensive to people with intellectual disabilities.
Nearly 200 people marched from Highland Park High School to Nova HP on Friday afternoon in a rally to discourage the community from using language offensive to people with intellectual disabilities.
Part of a national campaign called "Spread the Word to End the Word," the "Rally for Respect" was an attempt to get people to stop using the word "retarded." The march was planned by the peer mentoring class at Highland Park High School.
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"We have always been talking about the 'R' word and what it means," said Highland Park High School junior Hannah Rudman, one of the event's committee heads, about her peer mentoring class. "We wanted to get the entire community to come together."
Highland Park High School senior and fellow event committee head Lauren Sachs agreed with Rudman, and went on to explain how important events like these were to students and residents with intellectual disabilities.
"It means the world to them," Sachs said. "The smallest things make the biggest difference."
Rudman said she had already noticed the effectiveness of the rally in the hallways of her school.
"Today in the hall I heard someone almost say [the 'R' word] and then stop," she said.
The march ended at Nova HP, where students played ping pong, ate gelato and danced. In addition to discouraging the use of the "R" word, the event also displayed the strong ties peer mentors have made with Highland Park High School students who have special needs.
"Without question it was incredibly successful," said Highland Park High School principal Brad Swanson. "This is another example of how students from different backgrounds can come together for a common cause."
Highland Park High School senior Lucy Behn spent part of the event playing ping pong with senior Zach Williams. She called the peer mentoring class rewarding.
"It's a class, but it's not a class," Behn said. Her mother Anne Macknin, who was also at Friday's event, said peer mentoring is the only class her daughter talks about in depth.
Senior Sarah Bronson, who wants to be a special education teacher after she graduates college, also spoke affectionately about the peer mentoring class.
"Every small thing counts," she said, "So you can't have a day not smiling."
Event coordinator and Highland Park High School peer mentoring instructor Melissa Zientara said the event turnout was "bigger and better than we ever could have expected." She was surprised that many of the attendees were "just regular old students," as opposed to those involved with the peer mentoring class.
"It was a very, very positive response," she said.