By Steev Riccardo
On Monday, March 5, The Oxford High School Student Council held an assembly in support of “Spread the Word to End the R-word,” which is a movement to make people aware of how offensive the “R-word” can be to others.
The “R-word” movement, which was started by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation for the Benefit of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, is supported by Special Olympics and Best Buddies and over 200 other organizations from around the world.
Oxford High School has been supporting and involved in a series of events involving Special Olympics and Best Buddies and it has become a big part of the culture at the high school.
One of the leaders of this movement has been the local program coordinator for Special Olympics, Patty Ross, whose 18-year old daughter Nicole has Down ’s Syndrome. Nicole is in the Oxford life skills class and has been involved with Special Olympics and playing in sports at the school.
Ross said that Nicole “likes to be with others kids and be social” and it has given her great pleasure and happiness over the years.
The school took its Special Olympics campaign to another level in September when they became involved with Project Unify, which sponsors all types of worthy events.
“We took it a step further with the Special Olympics by getting involved with Project Unify, which chooses eleven schools in Massachusetts,” said Ross. “We get grant money from them this year and next year to help us with our programs, which includes cheerleading and girls and boys basketball teams.” They will also be starting up a track and field team in the Spring.
“Unless you have everybody excited about these programs, this is hard to do. Everybody has to be involved. It’s not something that just one person can do. It works out great for us this way. We all love doing this.”
One of these people is Patricia Spitz, who is an instructional aide and has been the Student Council advisor at the high school for four years.
“The students love it and have embraced their involvement with Special Olympics,” said Spitz.
The two also work closely with Rachel Piette and Lisa Greene, who run the Life Skills program and also head up “Best Buddies,” which currently has about twenty students participating students in it.
According to Ross, many of the students at Oxford High School have been with the life skills students since elementary school. “They grew up together” and that is why the special education programs are working so well.
One example of that is junior Ryan Donovan, who is president of the Oxford Student Council and is very heavily involved in the basketball program and the “Best Buddies Program.” Sixth-grader Justin Stockhaus, who attends Webster Middle School, is Donovan’s “Best Buddy” and the two see each other regularly.
The “R-word” assembly was a big hit according to Spitz. “We had 12 students mixed between regular education students and special education students speak at the assembly and give their insight about working with special education students.”
The students also took the following pledge not to use the “R-word”: “I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”
Senior Lauren Puishys spoke highly and positively about the event. “This is a really important assembly because people just throw around the “R- word” and they don’t understand that it is hurting people. They don’t find it offensive at all; I personally find the word completely offensive. I have made a strong relationship with a girl who has a mental disability and she is no different than anybody else, and to hear people throw around that word as an insult is just not right to me.”
The students and employees of Oxford High School should be heavily commended for all their involvement and participation in these great and important programs.