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A High School Tribute to Students With Disabilities

Updated on May 1, 2018
Karen Hellier profile image

Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.

The "R Word Campaign" at Norwich Free Academy

I work in a high school running the Career Center, as well as the Transition Career Specialist. A big part of my job is working with students in the Special Education Department to help them plan their transition to a job or career after high school. I have met many wonderful students that have Special Education needs. The students I work with are all special but in different ways. Some have Autism, some have ADHD, some have emotional issues, some are learning disabled in many areas, or only one, some have a physical disability. But what they all have in common is that they are wonderful teens who can add much to our world.

Special Education Students Just Learn Differently

  • I once worked with a teen who was learning disabled but was fantastic with mechanics. His dream was to be an auto mechanic. Anytime I had trouble with the copy machine; I could count on him to figure out what the trouble was and to jump in and fix it. He went on to a vocational and got a degree in auto mechanics.
  • I worked with another student who was blind and is now in her fourth year of college, about to graduate with a degree in social work.
  • I worked with another student who made videos and loved technology. He was extremely smart and went on to a community college and got a certificate in Video Technology.
  • I worked with another student who was labeled learning disabled and after graduation trained to be a travel agent and now has his own travel agency.
  • I worked with another student who was learning disabled but loved little children. After doing an internship in high school at a daycare center, she went on to open her own home daycare and is very successful.
  • I worked with a student who was labeled emotionally disturbed due to an anxiety disorder, and after getting his high school diploma, went on to become a shift leader at Dunkin Donuts and is on track for management.

These students were all wonderful, engaging people who just learn differently than others. But often, these students are not understood by peers or the world, and often are called by the "R-Word" ( Retarded).

The "R-Word" Campaign

February 17th, 2012 was a half day for the students at Norwich Free Academy. Regular classes were replaced by three workshops, one each about a negative word often used to bully students. The "F-word," the "N-word," and the "R-Word" Campaigns.

Out of the three, the most touching to me was the "R-Word" Campaign. It was designed to educate students about the effects of negative words on individuals with an intellectual disability. It took place in the gym and was meant to be like a pep rally celebrating everyone’s unique abilities. There were announcements from celebrities Kyle Masie and Scot Haney, student speakers, music, an NFA student-produced video featuring students and faculty spreading the message, and a cheerleader led “Spread the Word…Just Don’t Say It!” cheer.

Also, there were visitors from the Eastern Regional Special Olympics, UCONN football players, and Vinny Baker, former NBA athlete. Students received wrist bracelets and had the opportunity to sign a banner to hang in the school. Student participants in Special Olympics were introduced and cheered. A video of Special Education students was shown while two students from the Norwich Free Academy choir sang the song by Christina Aguilera, "Beautiful" that brought tears to everyone's eyes.

I have never been so proud of any school I have been connected with as I was yesterday during this assembly. The video included here was made by junior student Patrick Kudej, and really showcases the wonderful students we have, and how they are all wonderful in their own way. There were tears in the eyes of most of the staff as they watched this video of the students they know and love. It is a blessing just to be able to watch it, and I am sure it will touch the hearts of everyone who views it!

I hope you enjoy the video and take the poll below.

The R Word Campaign Video by NFA Student Patrick Kudej

The R Word

Have you ever used the R word? ( This poll is anonymous so be honest)

See results

© 2012 Karen Hellier


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