Spearfish schools nix ‘r-word,’ embrace inclusivity

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Preparedness, respect, integrity, determination, and excellence are the five values of Spearfish Middle School Spartans.

But maybe a sixth should be added – inclusivity – as Spartans have stopped using the “r-word” when referring to classmates with mental or physical disabilities. Six hundred Spartans filled the school gymnasium Wednesday for a rally to celebrate the end of its use.

We're one together.

The campaign to end the use of the word was part of the school’s goal of becoming a “unified school,” where all students commit to being respectful and inviting all others to participate in their daily activities. Spearfish Middle School is one of only two officially unified schools in South Dakota.

“A lot of students who do have disabilities, they don’t like being called the r-word,” said Andrew Kliewer, a Special Olympics basketball coach. “They want people to see them as other people see them. We want everyone to concentrate on the abilities rather than the disabilities, because we don’t want anybody to feel discriminated. We want everybody to feel like they belong.”

The students lived up to and exemplified their Spartan values in word and in deed, and they earned the respect of not only their peers of all abilities, but of their teachers, administrators, and parents, all of whom were invited to the rally.

“The school is loving all the students right now,” said Kliewer. “They have showed so much kindness and respect towards the staff, their own peers, encouraging students in P.E. classes, to encourage them to come join them whether they have a disability or not. Letting everybody know that we’re one together.”

The rally featured numerous events, including an introduction of the primary, middle, and high school unified basketball teams. There was also a basketball shoot-out, with the winning team taking the coveted Spartan Cup. Students who showed an extraordinary commit to inclusivity and Spartan values both inside and outside the classroom were also presented with awards.

“[They demonstrated] lots of inclusion, and lots of respect,” said Kliewer. “If you see a student get knocked down, they help that student get back up. We encourage anti-bullying here, so if you see somebody maybe getting picked on, they stand up and say ‘No, don’t do that.’”

After the rally, students and teachers alike were beaming with school pride.

“I’m just really proud to work for the school and watching the school come together to include everyone and be a unified school,” said Kliewer.

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