It was controlled chaos for a good cause in the Horizon Middle School gym.
Teachers squared off on one side of the room; students prepped on the other. A row of rubber dodgeballs served as the unofficial dividing line between the groups. A thundering cry from the officially appointed referee turned that informal boundary into a flashpoint.
"3, 2,1 … DODGEBALL!" the official screamed, and both groups ran to the center of the room to grab as many rubber balls as they could.
A flurry of throws and a scurry of evasive manoeuvers followed, as team members on both sides hurled harmless ammo at the opposing team, all while trying to avoid a smack from a dodgeball that would get them out of the game.
The scene was straight out of any playground from the past century, but the dodgeball game held at Horizon on April 17 had a very different purpose at its heart. The friendly match between middle schoolers and their teachers was the culminating event of a campaign seeking to foster understanding, respect and kindness. It was the capstone of an "End the R Word" educational push at the school; the concerted effort sought to eliminate an ugly phrase from students' everyday vocabulary.
"We wanted to push the proper use of language when we talk about our special education students," said Nickie Bell, principal of Horizon Middle School. "We wanted to switch to positive language instead of that word, or even referring to students by their individuals names."
The campaign consisted of a combination of education and school spirit. Students learned about the purpose of respectful language, and they showed their understanding of those important lessons by buying and wearing accompanying T-shirts. They also took part in special events, all designed to underline the value
Those shirts – emblazoned with the "End the R Word" logo – were plentiful during the teacher-vs.-student dodgeball match. Both teams sported the signature logo of the campaign, and the coordinated outfits helped keep the main mission of the game in the forefront.
"This is our last activity for kids who showed they could be positive role models and that they could show respect," Bell said.
Indeed, participation in the culminating event was reserved for those students who had shown an active and continued participation throughout the campaign. Students and teachers alike reveled in the opportunity to compete – both sides were fixed on winning the day, leaping to avoid rubber dodgeballs and finding specific targets on the other side of the gym.
But for all the competition of the day, both teams showed a common purpose and a common commitment to success.
"They had to earn their ticket today," Bell said. "They showed respect for themselves, others, learning and the learning of others."