R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Youth movement spreads the ‘word’ at Sussex Central High

Ppst SCHS student council spread word to end word

From left, Sussex Central High School Student Council executive officers Tiffany Raeuber, Charlie Megginson, Alyson Tober, Natalie Atkinson and Megan Magee man the pledge table at the school’s Spread the Word to End the Word campaign. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).


GEORGETOWN — There’s an ongoing youth movement at Sussex Central High School spurred by the Student Council that involves taking the pledge and fulfilling it each and every day.
Odds are that by the end of Sussex Central’s last lunch period on Wednesday, March 4, the banner spread out on a table in the cafeteria was filled to the gills with signatures of students and staff pledging to even the playing field for those with intellectual disabilities.
One mission: eradicate once and for all the disparaging, demeaning and hurtful use of all forms of the R-word (retard/retarded) in reference to people with intellectual disabilities.
“Today means a lot to me because my sister is actually mentally challenged. She was in the Ennis class throughout her high school career,” said Megan Magee, Student Council Historian. “People do use the word (R-word) in a sense that it doesn’t need to be used. Even in like psychology books it is not used as the R-word anymore.”
“When I see the way that they get treated sometimes it hurts my feelings and makes me just want to go the extra mile,” said Student Council Executive Secretary Alyson Tober. “I don’t understand why people don’t just want to be a friend – and be a good person.”
Special Olympics Delaware, through its Project UNIFY program with the support of Best Buddies Delaware and other disability organizations, united with students in schools across the state in a global movement on March 4 to Spread the Word to End the Word.
In addition to Sussex Central High School, events were also planned at Lord Baltimore Elementary, John Clayton Elementary and Sussex Tech High School and Delaware Technical Community College’s Owens Campus.
Another mission, Student Council members say, is school unity. At Sussex Central the R-word actually stands for R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
“Today is really just a date on the calendar – the Respect Day,” said Student Council President Charlie Megginson. “Every day is Respect Day at Sussex Central High School, so it’s kind of getting the message out. That has been our agenda this year: to get the message out so that today people can finally sign the pledge. But I don’t think there is going to be much of a change, because students have already shown such a tremendous amount of respect.”
At Sussex Central, it’s integration and friendship, not segregation and isolation.
“Our whole goal for Spread the Word to End the Word is to spread awareness, not only to get people to stop using the R-word because it is offensive, but to also think about all of the other things we can do to unify everyone in our school,” said Tiffany Raeuber, Student Council Vice President. “We actually have two seniors (Erika Long and Miranda Vickers) in our special education that are in our student council. So they are always welcome to our meetings. We actually have a Book Club. Every week we go read to them. We sit with them sometimes at lunch …”
“When you see them in hallway, when you pass by them at lunch, they wave to you,” Natalie Atkinson, Student Council’s Secretary of Public Relations. “To see them, to stop and say ‘Hi’ to them is just heartwarming because it means that you made a difference to somebody else.”
“In the past year we’ve integrated these students in with our lives,” said Charlie. “They’ve become our friends. We sit with them at lunch. We have the Book Club. So it has been an amazing experience to work with them. And the other students see that. I don’t hear the R-word – the one that students are pledging not to say – very often. I think the reason for this banner is just to kind of help to continue to get that message out, about how important it is to respect the students.”
“They see that we’re doing this for them. They know that this is for them,” Charlie added. “A lot of people kind of dismiss them; they think that they don’t know what’s going on around them. But they definitely do – and they appreciate this because this is for them.”
In conjunction with the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, upward of 300 “Play Unified; Live Unified” T-shirts were sold at $5 a pop as a fundraiser. All members of the school cafeteria staff purchased a T-shirt.
Every penny from T-shirt sales is earmarked for support of Special Olympics Delaware, said Kathleen Lane, Special Education teacher and Student Council advisor at Sussex Central.
Sometime in April, unity will take root with special education students taking part in a big event in conjunction with Earth Day. “We will get them involved that way,” said Ms. Lane. “And every week we have the Book Club and that’s amazing.”
“Sussex Central is a place of great diversity,” said Jonathan Tietz, Sussex Central High School’s Teacher of the Year. “We’ve always had diversity. We have people of many races and many economic backgrounds. We need to include intellectual differences as well because there are many different intellectual differences. There are people across the spectrum we need to work with; people of all backgrounds to allow them to be full members of society.”
“Part of what we do as teachers is to get students ready to contribute to society when they get out of school, whether that is the honor student or whether that is the student who has intellectual disabilities,” said Mr. Tietz, who teaches social studies, psychology and International Baccalaureate. “We need to work with all of them. There is not one student better than any other student.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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