Students working to make kindness contagious at Stillwater Area High School

May 03, 2019
Students dancing

Kindness is spreading through the hallways of Stillwater Area High School. It started with a small group of students committed to bringing together general education students with their special education peers. But this week kindness has taken hold of the entire campus, impacting thousands of students and inspiring a new way to see and speak to their classmates of all abilities.

“We want to stop the ‘R’ word and replace it with the word ‘respect,’” said senior Thomas Haggard, one of the students behind the #SpeakKindness campaign. “We’re encouraging the use of person first language to talk about who a person is rather than identifying them by a disability.”

Created by Special Olympics Minnesota, the #SpeakKindness campaign promotes person-first language. This means the “person” is always named first, which emphasizes the person as an individual rather than defining them with their disability. Throughout the week students had the opportunity to add their fingerprint to a #SpeakKindness banner, symbolizing their commitment to always use person-first language, celebrate inclusion, and speak with kindness. The school also hosted an Inclusion Dance on Wednesday, that brought students of all abilities together to hang out, dance and have fun.

The campaign was organized and supported by more than 40 students who are involved in the Unified Physical Education class and the TRUST Buddies Club. In its second year, the Unified Physical Education class pairs general education students with their Special Education peers. Together, students participate in various physical activities as part of the gym class, while also forging friendships and developing common ground among students. TRUST Buddies is an extra-curricular club that promotes inclusion and brings kids of all abilities together for special activities and events.

“These students are working to change the culture of Stillwater to make everyone feel included and part of the community,” said Paula Harrison, a physical education teacher and advisor of the TRUST Buddies Club. “Students are becoming more aware of how they speak about and act toward people of all abilities. Inclusion is life changing when kids live it. It’s helping them see we all have our differences and we can all be kind.”