Smyrna students, as well as others across Delaware, pledged Wednesday to stop using the word retard as part of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.
Spread the Word to End the Word is a Special Olympics Delaware campaign done through it's Project Unify program and Best Buddies Delaware along with several other disability organizations. The campaign unites students in schools across the state in a movement for mutual respect and human dignity.
The goal of the campaign is to get people to stop and think about their hurtful use of the word retard and pledge to stop using it.
Smyrna High School students attended an assembly for Spread the Word to End the Word Wednesday, and then signed a banner pledging to refrain from using the "r-word." Smyrna High School was one of 60 schools in the state, including Clayton and Smyrna Elementary schools, to participate in the campaign.
Teacher and Blue-Gold Club advisor Whitney Reed told the students that she first got involved with Blue-Gold when she was in high school and it's something that stuck with her.
"One little thing that could affect you when you're 17 years old could really affect the rest of your life," Reed said.
Reed reminded students of the common saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," but told students that words do indeed hurt.
"Bones heals, but words stay with you," Reed said.
There are things people have said to her in the past that still stick with her to this day.
Ruth Coughlan, director of communications for Special Olympics Delaware, explained to students how Spread the Word to End the Word got started and then asked them a series of questions: Have you ever heard someone use the word retard, have you been called retarded before, and have you used the word retard.
For each question, a flurry of hands went up in the air. Then she asked if students wanted to be treated with respect; hands were up in the air once again.
"All we're asking is for people to sign the pledge," Coughlan said. "You have the power to make a difference at Smyrna High School."
Students also heard from Smyrna Blue-Gold student ambassadors and local mother Kelly McLaughlin, who has a son with an intellectual disability.
She said her biggest fear for Cody, 6, growing up is that people will make fun of him, but these thoughts never cross Cody's mind. He plays sports and brings joy to everyone he meets, she said. Cody is the buddy for students Jen Grey and Jacob Stoner.
Cody's older brother Chase was also brave enough to speak to the students.
"Cody thinks that there's no murderers and bad people," Chase said. "Everything is good to him. He plays basketball and t-ball."