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'Even though Respect Week has ended, we need to continue spreading this awareness.'

There are two R-words that everybody knows.

The first one is one that many people are, unfortunately, familiar with, especially those who have friends or family who are classified as special needs. It's a word that is often used as a synonym for "uncool" or "lame" in everyday speech, but also one that is harmful to those with mental disabilities. The second one ("respect"), however, should be used in every setting, with every person, every, single day.

Unfortunately, as middle schoolers, that is not something that we see happen. Anyone from a minority group, or just anyone that doesn't fit in, particularly people with physical disabilities and/or developmental delays, are likely to be targets of bullying. That is one of the reasons why Respect Week is so important to Neil Armstrong Middle School and the community of Forest Grove.

Respect Week is an outstanding week of celebrating everyone for who they are. It started in 2009 as a single day called "Spread the Word to End the Word," a name which stems from its goal of spreading respect and putting a stop to the stereotyping and shaming that comes from using the word "retard." Since then, the Special Olympic Program has expanded it into a whole week.

Respect Week in Forest Grove didn't start until much later, but even so, it is an important part of the culture here. Forest Grove High School has released videos for the past few years to celebrate Respect Week, but NAMS hopes to outdo them this time.

This year, Neil Armstrong's leadership and unified advisory classes joined forces to create a variety of activities and events that should inspire people to feel and demonstrate more compassion for people who have a disability. Some of our students have put together a video encouraging people to "Spread the Word to End the Word," while others are managing an Instagram page designed to promote the hashtag "#PersonFirst." Last Monday, students spent their advisory period thinking of words beginning with letters that make up the word "respect" (effectively a collective acrostic poem) and pledging to respect people with and without disabilities by signing a poster. On Friday, also during advisory, each student drew the name of a disability out of a hat and had to simulate having that disability for the entirety of the period. Our spirit week, which includes a combination of suggested clothing and behavior choices, coincided with Respect Week as well.

Austin Prather, known to the middle schoolers at NAMS as the man in charge of the unified program, worked hard to make this Respect Week everything we hoped it would be. He was an important part of the encouragement and the steering of the leadership groups. Without him, this week would never have been celebrated this year nor in years prior. He worked hard to make the community of Forest Grove an inclusive place.

Read Austin Prather's obituary as it appeared in the March 14, 2018, issue.

Even in his absence, the Respect Week will carry on.

It's unfortunate that Respect Week is necessary in our society.

Treating people equally and kindly should be automatic. However, we should all use this year's Respect Week as an opportunity to change our own behavior and to encourage others to be more aware of their actions and more considerate of other people. Even though Respect Week has ended, we need to continue spreading this awareness.

Forest Grove has been a more inclusive place thanks to the efforts of various programs and people across our town, but we still have a ways to go, and with your help, we can make that happen.

Lucie Carriker and Johanna Peeters Weem are leadership students at Neil Armstrong Middle School in Forest Grove.


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