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Students Clean Up Their Act,
"Dare Not To Swear!"


At Bremerton (Washington) High School, students have taken control of the language they hear in the halls by choosing to hold their tongues. The student-generated program "Dare Not To Swear!" asks pledges to give up inappropriate words to expand their vocabulary and their minds. With community support, the campaign has proven to be an even greater success than its creators had hoped. At more than a thousand members, this program suggests that students can be as bothered by swearing as their teachers. And they can be even more effective in reducing it! Included: See how two schools tackled the tough problem of student swearing. Plus Dare Not To Swear! poetry.

"What has surprised me the most is that in three hours 1,043 students, out of a population 1,800 eighth to twelfth graders, signed up to pledge not to swear in school," shared Madonna Hanna. "Within a week of the Dare Not To Swear! kick-off, the swearing had dramatically decreased. It seemed the pledges had been empowered to enforce the anti-swearing campaign."

Dare Not To Swear! is the brainchild of Hanna, who is a Milken National Educator, and senior students in her advanced fashion marketing class at Bremerton (Washington) High School. The class surveyed BHS students, teachers, and parents to identify ways that they could improve the school in the areas of respect, responsibility, and safety. From the results, the students elected to design an anti-swearing campaign.

"At the outset, I expected my advanced fashion marketing students to be successful at generating ideas and executing their marketing task. They thoughtfully discussed the pros and cons of the controversial project," reported Hanna. "Selling them on the idea of the project was not difficult, but we all knew it might be hard to sell a change of culture, habit, and lifestyle."


The project began with planning and a presentation to the principal and superintendent to request start-up funds. The group used this money to purchase blue and yellow wristbands that read "I dare not to swear!" and distributed them during a lunchtime sign-up session that launched the program.

"Even though we meticulously planned the kick-off and a yearlong schedule of activities, the enthusiasm of the pledges caught us off guard," Hanna recalled. "Due to the overwhelming acceptance of the program, we soon realized that we were not driving our own vehicle! We found ourselves frantically running to keep up with the movement that we had created."

The greatest part of the program's success can be attributed directly to the students themselves, such as Leilani J., a 17-year-old who says that before the program she used profanity in almost every sentence. Using swear words was something she "picked up" from her surroundings, and she commonly spoke them at home.

"When I heard about this program, I saw an opportunity to change my foul-mouthed ways," she admitted. "I didn't want to be offensive to anyone anymore. When I signed up for this program and received my wristband, I decided to wear it everyday. I wear it with pride. I want to represent BHS with pride, promote the anti-swearing project and, most of all, remind myself to tone down my language."

Remarkably, a number of students like Leilani have approached Hanna to tell her that they have decreased their swearing or stopped it "cold turkey." This is evident in the halls of the school, where Principal Aaron Leavell, isn't hearing the same level of swear words.

"Swearing was absolutely an issue at BHS prior to the Dare Not To Swear! campaign," he said. "Inappropriate language was prevalent in hallways, commons areas, and at co-curricular events. Today, when students do swear, there are others around who remind them not to. Students have even created 'no swearing zones' around our building."

Swearing Punishments:
Less Is More?

In Florida, Boca Raton Community High recently raised eyebrows by modifying its policy regarding student swearing in school. The former guidelines required out-of-school suspension for any student who was overheard using profanity, a penalty that could prevent a student from entering the college of his choice. Today students can be given a more lenient punishment that is dependent upon what was said, where and to whom it was spoken, and whether it was used in an insulting or threatening manner.

"We hold our students to very high behavioral standards and work to promote school-wide respect for all members of our school population," said the school's principal, Geoffrey McKee. "We are blessed to have a responsive and caring student population, though they are not perfect."

Inappropriate language or some form of verbal abuse account for about 20 percent of discipline referrals at the high school. The policy changes have led to fewer out-of-school suspensions, but McKee has not seen a rise in the number of offenses. Discerning the intent of the students' words can be difficult, so the judgment of the staff member who overheard the offense and the dean who interprets witness statements weigh heavily.

"Our disciplinary policies must evolve with societal standards in order to be fair and productive," McKee observed. "It takes more work to provide and monitor in-school detentions and other alternatives to suspensions, but we have a greater chance to help our students modify their behavior when they are with us."

The strength of Dare Not To Swear! lies in its foundation, Leavell believes. Experience tells him that when students organize a building-wide campaign, it has greater potential to succeed.

"Students tend to buy into ideas that are generated by them as opposed to top-down directives," said the principal. "I appreciate the Dare Not To Swear! program, as it is a huge piece in our efforts to change the culture in our school. Dare Not To Swear! is a powerful and effective student intervention."


With the strong introduction to the program behind them, Hanna and her class immediately created new signs and collaborated on activities with business and community members. The positive response from the Bremerton community has equaled that of the students.

A credit union donated funds for incentives, a silk screening business printed and provided promotional shirts at no cost, and the town's mayor and the governor of Washington proclaimed October 19, 2006, Dare Not To Swear! Day at BHS. Even businesses and individuals from outside the school district have contributed by purchasing wristbands. A local candy shop has collaborated with the fashion students to create a special Dare Not To Swear! fudge that will be presented to the State Attorney General Rob McKenna when he visits the school this month to recognize the project.

Local and national professional athletes, politicians, parents, and business leaders have joined in a part of the project called Give Us A Reason Not To Swear. Their firsthand advice about not swearing and substitute swear words are televised daily for students and staff.

"We have managed to maintain the interest in Dare Not To Swear! by constantly creating interesting and fun activities that are suggested by the pledges and community members," Hanna explained. "We have inspired the yearbook staff to create a Swear Free Yearbook Autographing campaign. The athletic department has the Dare Not To Swear! message and logo on the cover of all sports rosters. We hope that visiting parents, fans, and friends will not swear while rooting for our Knights. We also have monthly giveaways, constantly change signage, and distribute surveys and questionnaires in addition to selling our promotional t-shirts and wristbands."


BHS family and consumer science teacher Susan Abbe has been stunned by the number of students who have "jumped on the bandwagon" and signed up for the Dare Not To Swear! campaign. She says that she didn't realize that swearing in the school bothered students as much as it did teachers.

"The advanced fashion marketing students involved in the campaign have made many banners that say Dare Not To Swear!, and I have posted one on my classroom bulletin board," Abbe shared. "It is an easy and kind way for me to remind students that my classroom is a space where swearing is off-limits."

As an advisor for Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Abbe saw the Dare Not To Swear! program as an opportunity to encourage her membership in the organization's number one purpose, "To promote opportunities for personal development and preparation for adult life."

"I know how key it is for our youth to grow up to be active members of communities and good citizens," said Abbe. "Using appropriate language in all arenas of life helps to train students in positive ways for their future. Personal development and growth start in small ways. Making a commitment not to swear can be one of those small ways."

Eighteen-year-old Natasha M., one of Hanna's marketing students, thinks the best thing to come out of Dare Not To Swear! at BHS has been the students' positive outlook on the program. "At first I was nervous about presenting this program because I wasn't so sure that the other students would take to it," she explained. "The students' reaction was very surprising because they picked up on the idea so fast. It's a task to get other students to take a vow not to swear, but it is very possible."

Sara H. believes that the campaign will have long-term pluses for students."Participating in [a program like] Dare Not To Swear! will help kids, especially as they get older and want to apply for and keep their jobs," said the 17-year-old. "Employers would rather have polite employees than potty-mouthed ones, not to mention that customers will appreciate it as well. When teens don't swear, it improves their community."

"It's kind of cool being a part of something like this that can affect so much change," adds 18-year-old Clare R. "By being persistent, students can change the culture of their school in a positive way. There are even local businesses that want to reduce swearing at their workplace because of us."

Those who adopt a program like Dare Not To Swear! must be ready for the unexpected, advises Hanna. She and the fashion marketing students prepared for negative outcomes, such as an increase in swearing -- which, thankfully, did not happen -- and the possibility that posters and materials would be destroyed, which did occur. Hanna warned her students not to confront rebellious peers, and instead bring those matters to her or to administration.

"Don't be afraid to stand up and make a positive change or difference in your school," Hanna encouraged. "It is okay to raise the expectations and to work to achieve and maintain them. Be consistent, stand your ground, and don't lower your expectations because of a few rebellious negative comments and torn posters. This project works because students who have been bothered by swearing have been empowered to tell offending peers to Dare Not To Swear!"

Powerful Poetry

One of the tools Madonna Hanna and her students have used to keep their movement alive is the first annual Dare Not To Swear! Poetry Contest. The event was a tremendous success and involved a national selection of judges. A sampling of entries is below.

I have decided to limit to little or none
My times with cussing is officially done!
Respecting my peers with no profanity but care
Cuz I solemnly dare not to swear!
    -- Earl L.

Rap artists are notorious for it, some politicians make the same mistake.
It's part of others' vocabulary, icing on the cake.

Others have no clue that they have said it.
They blame it on their mouth, say they just let it.

What is the benefit, name one good thing
It makes you sound stupid because nobody's listening.

Give up the excuses, admit it's the wrong thing to do
A lot more people will pay attention to you.

What if we all put forth an effort, to use alternate words.
To the words less appreciated, give people the respect they deserve.

A way to show intellect, show you truly care.
Make the world a better place if you Dare Not To Swear!
    -- Marguis B.

You could have asked me:
"How has swearing improved my life?"
I couldn't answer that question
Before, because
It doesnt improve my life at all.
Now you can ask me:
"How does not swearing improve my life?"
I can finally answer that question!
Today I look back at myself and realize
That when I use to swear it didn't make me look good!
It gave teachers,
And the community
For myself
Changes peoples' perspective toward ME!
It makes ME look like a BETTER person.
It allows teachers,
And the community
To give me the respect I have been looking for.
I earned it!
Be a Knight and do it the right way!
Dare Not To Swear
Get the respect that you have earned.
    -- Crystal G.

Did you just cuss?!
Don't make a fuss!
If you have a bad day
Or don't get your way
And it seems unfair
Like nobody cares.
I do!
So Dare Not to Swear!
    -- Colleen R.