The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

March 4, 2014

Waller students hear about the ‘R-word’

ENID, Okla. — The entire Waller Middle School student body turned out Tuesday for a special presentation about thinking before they speak.

Samantha Schmaus, who teaches special education reading at Waller, said having a cousin with autism and another with Asperger’s syndrome gave her an awareness of how often they were referred to by the derogatory term “retard.”

While she could make her classroom a safe place for 50 minutes out of the day, her students spend a lot more of their day dealing with uncertainty. Schmaus decided to undertake a project to teach her students how to advocate for themselves during the rest of the day.

“Spread the Word to End the Word,” is a campaign to eliminate the use of “the R-word.” Schmaus said she learned about the campaign at a conference in Oklahoma City, and brought it home to her Waller classroom.

Throughout the assembly, students stepped up to the microphone and gave brief speeches, then a video produced by Schmaus’ students was shown for the assembly.

“My name’s Christian, and I’m talking about how words can hurt you,” Christian Skalla said. “Stop and think, ‘Am I bullying someone?’ If you are, you should stop it. Words can hurt more than you think they do.”

In the video, a student in class bullies another student and gets sent to the principal’s office. The principal phones his mother to come pick him up. After talking first to the bullied student, then to the mother of the bully, the student is sent home. Two days later, when he returns to school, he now treats others with respect.

Waller students reacted warmly to the messages Schmaus’ students presented, and enthusiastically to the video.

“I proposed this idea to my classes and told them that it was an at-will project, no grades would be taken, no one would be forced to participate,” Schmaus said. “I was overwhelmed and extremely moved by not only the amount of people who stepped up to be involved, but the time and consideration they put in to their project. Students wrote their own speeches, wrote plays, filmed videos, acted, did research, created T-shirt designs, created PowerPoints, and worked on it diligently with myself acting only as a supervisor. The amount of respect that the students showed each other throughout the process was incredible, and it was truly amazing to see the students who participated grow as leaders and grow in their own self-confidence.”

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