By Joseph Domelowicz
For the Transcript
Winthrop High School teacher Chris Donnelly, his students and peer mentors and more than 200 high school and middle school students have taken a pledge this year to help end the use of the “R” word, when referring to people with intellectual disabilities, such as those who are in Donnelly’s class.
Donnelly’s work with these students, and specifically in helping to bring them into the mainstream of high school life and in the community, has been well documented in the past. This effort, the Third Annual ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ campaign and day of awareness, is a newer and more direct way to get that message across.
The campaign culminated Wednesday afternoon during a presentation at the high school auditorium, but the intent of the campaign is supposed to be longer lasting.
“We want people to realize that the word can’t be tolerated and it is like using any other slur word, or derogatory term,” explained Donnelly of the campaign’s goal. “We want people to stop using it and the more than 250 students at the high school and more than 100 students at the middle school, have taken a pledge to stop using it and to spread the word if they hear someone else using it.”
As much as the campaign and awareness day are meant to draw attention to the cause, Wednesday’s event was also a celebration of the students and young people that Donnelly and the pledge taking campus are working on behalf of.
“The program featured many speakers, including some of my students and the peer mentors and there were some performances as well,” explained Donnelly. “The whole event was really just a great, emotional day that brought the whole school together.”
Donnelly and WHS student Felicia Patti, who has Downs Syndrome, addressed the audience, and her classmate John Sheehan performed a duet with his mother Carol.
State Senator Anthony Petrucelli was on hand, as will a representative of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office, members of the School Committee and Superintendent Joseph Lisi.
Other speakers included Student Council President Sam (Samantha) Gillis, third year peer mentor Alyssa Moore, first year peer mentor Anthony Hatzisavas and performances of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” by Catherine Loomis and Mariah Carey’s “Hero” by Carmen Tracy.
“We have 32 peer mentors in the program this year, juniors and seniors who work with our students and help them and that’s a powerful thing to share with the rest of the community,” said Donnelly.