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Local teacher tries to eliminate 'R-word' from everyday use

Special education teacher driven by personal experience holds assembly

Local teacher tries to eliminate 'R-word' from everyday use

POCATELLO, Idaho - Maybe you've said it, or maybe a friend has said it. But it's one word Irving Middle School special education teacher Lisa Baker is hoping to eliminate from everyday vocabulary.

Baker held an assembly at Irving on Friday, and asked the kids in the Developmental Learning Program to talk about themselves. Her goal with this was to show the other kids that these students have some impairments, but they're not that different. She hopes by knowing these kids, others will avoid using the "R-word" -- "retard."

"It was initially used and it still is used in the medical community," said Baker. "A lot of doctors still diagnose kids as mentally retarded. But that's where it needs to stay."

She said she's made this a major life goal, and has had feedback from students after holding an assembly or other activity to promote the "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign.

"I've had students say, 'I went home and I heard my mom or dad use that word, and I told them we don't use that word at my school, because there are kids at my school who's feelings get hurt when they hear it,'" Baker said.

Friday's assembly included a talk from Highland High School's homecoming queen and goal-scoring soccer phenomenon, Sarah Roberts. Sarah, who has Down syndrome, played in a soccer game where the opposing team actually helped her score two goals. For that story, follow this link:

At the assembly, Baker also called on various students to participate in an activity she had prepared.

"I had students come down to try and open a candy bar with oven mitts on, or blindfolded, or sitting in a wheelchair," she said.  "I even had kids try and open it with their feet, just to show them how difficult an easy task can be."

Baker knows all too well come of the difficulties faced by those with impairments.

"My daughter is so sweet and wonderful. Her name is Jenna and she's 11," Baker said.  "She has Angelman syndrome, and she's about at a 2-year-old level."

Baker said the only thing that wears on her being surrounded by kids with special needs is hearing someone using the word in passing, even when they don't mean the word to be hurtful.

"I get that," Baker said.  "People don't mean to be mean, and I know people use it without being mean, but it's just time to learn to find something else to say."

Irving Middle School is the only middle school in District 25 with a developmental learning program.

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