Pupils ‘spread the word to end the word’

DOWN SYNDROME DAY MARKED — Fourth- and fifth-grade pupils at J.T. Karaffa Elementary School in Toronto showed off their mis-matched socks to help celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, Thursday. -- Amy Neeley

TORONTO — The fourth- and fifth-grade pupils at J.T. Karaffa Elementary School were learning to “spread the word to end the word,” Thursday.

Cookie West, the employment navigator and community facilitator for the Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities, spoke to the students about the “r-word” and how they can help to be the generation to end its use.

West explained to the students how originally the word was a part of a medical diagnosis but through the years, its meaning changed.

“That word was used and no one had an issue with it,” she told the pupils. “But then people started to use it in a mean and hurtful way. The people who had this label started to speak up because it was being used to say ‘we don’t belong.'”

West explained it was 15 years ago that the medical profession changed the diagnosis to developmental disabilities. This change stopped labeling the person and started labeling the problem.

“To be 100 percent honest, we all have some special needs,” she said. “We don’t want to be excluded. We don’t want to feel that we don’t belong.”

West told the students to always remember to “T.H.I.N.K.” before speaking. “T.H.I.N.K.” means to ask is what is being said truthful, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind.

In the case of hearing someone else using the word, West told the students it was OK to say something.

“With kindness and respect say that word is not acceptable,” she said. “We are going to wipe it from existence.”

West encouraged the pupils to take an online pledge at www.therword.org to help end use of the word. She told the children that 718,000 people have already taken the pledge.

“But that is not enough,” she said.

Makayla Walter, a fifth-grader at the school, was ready to take on the challenge.

“I have never said the word and never will,”she said. “I have heard kids say it in the hall and it’s unbelievable because (the people saying it) are younger than me.”

Ephortlis Kelley, a fifth-grader, said he will stop other kids when they say it.

“I think if they say it they should get in trouble,” he said.

Fellow fifth-grade pupil Landon Jaworski agreed.

“(The word) is disgusting,” he said.

Thursday was World Down Syndrome Day and many of the students wore their mix-matched socks to show their support of fellow children with special needs.