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End the 'R' word: Hastings’ schools hold event to spread inclusion

Hastings students that helped put on the "Spread the Word to End the Word" event earlier in March include (from left to right): Nathaniel Kirera, Courtney Iverson, Zachary Huffman, Logan Watana, Claire Winter, Harmony Lopez-Potasek, Cindy Wirth, Katie Gartzke, Logan Seubert and Sam Witt. Submitted photo

Later this month, Hastings students will be encouraging community members to stop using hateful language at two stands located in the community.

The March 29 Spread the Word to End the Word event, which will have two information areas at the YMCA and Walmart, aims to encourage people against using the word "retarded" and other hateful language while spreading inclusion. Hastings High School and the middle school held similar events in hallways earlier this month.

"I hope that use of the word has decreased," said Paula Angell, a family resource coordinator for the school district. "It was one of those words that we needed to make an effort to stop using."

The stands at the Y and Walmart are put on by the school district's Students of Transition Age Acquiring Relevant Skills Program, a program for students with special needs from 18-21 years old.

The event includes a pledge board — where participants pledge to stop using the word — and activities like trivia that people can answer for prizes, Angell said. Students that are part of the district's special education department ran the high school events, which mirrored the upcoming community event, she said.

"It's kind of cool because it'll be more adults (that they talk to)," Angell said.

She started the school event about five years ago and Angell said student participation is high. Then it was a middle school-only event, but last year it expanded to the high school as well, she said.

And while the event's main focus is on a single word, Angell said that there are plenty of other hateful words that need to be addressed as well.

"We focus on the R word, but we're taking that step to focus on all words that are hurtful to people. We got a long way to go," she said.

The event originated through Special Olympics and Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization that aims to help people with disabilities find opportunities. On the event's website, more than 790,000 people had pledged to spread inclusion.

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