Words have an intrinsic value to them. They can be positive or negative. They can create, or they can destroy.
And one Highland High School student is doing his best to make sure one negative term has no place inside the halls of his school system.
Highland junior Quin Winkelfoos, with the help of Highland High School Intervention Specialist Chris Rupe, has launched a “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign throughout the district’s three schools.
The message is simple— end the derogatory use of “r-word” throughout the district. The term that is often negatively associated with physically and mentally challenged people.
“I wanted to raise awareness that words can be hurtful,” Winkelfoos said. “It’s been going really well. I’ve gotten a lot of support.”
The Highland junior got the idea for the campaign through his volunteer work with iCan Bike, a national program designed to help children with physical and mental challenges learn to bike.
There he was introduced to the national “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, which is supported by the Special Olympics, Best Buddies and 200 other nationwide organizations.
Since learning of the movement, Winkelfoos decided to implement the campaign into the district by selling orange t-shirts to students who wanted to participate in Quin’s message. They, along with much of the schools’ staff, wore their shirts in support of the national campaign’s annual awareness day on March 2.
Winkelfoos decided to launch his campaign in Highland after overhearing widespread use of the “r-word” from the student body. He has spoken to the freshman class, as well as middle school classes, about inappropriate language in their vocabulary, in hopes to make the halls a friendlier place for those with disabilities.
“I heard some kids correct another kid after using the word today,” Winkelfoos said when asked of the program’s progress. “All three schools are invested in what I’m trying to do. It’s been great.”
In addition to sporting the brightly colored t’s, students were asked to sign a large poster plastered on a cafeteria wall in both the middle and high school. The mural asks students to pledge to eliminate the “r-word” from everyday speech, as well as promote the inclusion of people with disabilities.
“The students were able to see the positive influence of this program and it allowed for communication about the negative impact certain words can have against students, particularly those with special needs,” Highland High School principal Nate Huffman said. “We have amazing students in the Highland Local School District.”
The Highland junior hopes to continue the program next March and into the future by passing along his message to others. As for his own future, Quin would like to become a special education instructor upon completing college.