PLEASANT HILL, Iowa -- Two seventh grade students used an English class assignment to explain to their classmates and anyone willing to listen that using the word ‘retarded’ is offensive to those who have special needs.
Caroline Hermes and Soren Olsen both worked with special needs students outside of their regular class work and learned how offensive the ‘r-word’ can be.
“People didn’t know. Most people didn’t know. They just used is to call somebody dumb, and that’s not the real meaning. And if a kid with special needs would hear that, they would get very, it’s very hurtful,” Hermes said.
For their assignment, the students reached out to Special Olympics Iowa, other experts, and their peers to make a video that aligns with the national campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word.
“We have a lot of special needs students here at Southeast Polk and I think the point of the campaign in general and here is just like Caroline said: to show that these students are our friends, that they have feelings, and that when we say the ‘r-word’ it does, like Caroline said, mean something else. It means special needs, but when you’re using it in a derogatory way it can be hurtful,” said Jenna Siepker, an English teacher at Southeast Polk Junior High School.
Olsen said it started just for school, but turned into more when they talked with Special Olympics Iowa and were featured on their Facebook page.
“There’s way more other terms you can use besides the ‘r-word.’ And that it’s really offensive and hurtful and you don’t need to use it. It’s very small-minded thinking, how somebody used to say it probably 20 years ago, because special needs students were called that. Now you can call them special needs with being less hurtful,” Olsen said.
Siepker said they plan to show the video to all the students at the beginning of this coming school year.