Cold Springs Elementary students are taking a stand against using the "R" word.
“I’ve personally said and heard it at recess out on the playground,” fifth-grader Wyatt Nelson said Wednesday.
“I didn’t know how hurtful it was,” said Nelson, a representative on the Missoula school’s student council.
He and his fellow student council members spent part of this week giving presentations to every class at Cold Springs about the "R" word’s negative meaning for people who have disabilities.
Their efforts are part of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, which they learned about through Special Olympics, which will hold its state games in Missoula for the next three years.
The student council spent weeks researching and then completing a presentation. And the members worked with Special Olympics leaders to make sure the presentation was accurate.
Special education teacher Kayla Matich said the presentations are prompting conversations about the "R" word and why it is derogatory at both the teacher and student level.
“We’re hoping that’s just contagious,” she said.
The message in the presentations is simple: “You just respect each other,” Matich said.
“It’s disrespectful and negative and nobody deserves to be called this word,” said Piper Reilly, a fourth-grade student council member.
Instead, the council members suggested other words beginning with the letter "R" that students could use, including radiant, reliable and remarkable.
After listening to the presentation, third-grader Zack Kessler signed the pledge not to use the "R" word.
He said if he heard the term used, he would tell the person he should not use the word.
Kessler’s classmate, Laura Graves, said she has witnessed people call others the "R" word.
“I thought that they were kind of like a bully,” she said, adding the person on the receiving end of the name seemed hurt and embarrassed.
Council members said it makes them feel good to have a positive impact by educating their peers about the "R" word's negative impact on people with disabilities.
“It makes me feel like I did the right thing,” student council member Nelson said.