Camden middle schooler fights 'special needs' stigma with unity

CAMDEN, SC (WIS) - To be fearless and to be kind: it's something 8th grader, Anthony Lyles, is making a priority.

It's not just because that's the name of the award he won: the "Be Fearless, Be Kind" award presented by the Hasbro Children's Fund through the Special Olympics.

Which, he did, by the way, after a special education teacher at Camden Middle School nominated him. It's because he knows that he and his peers, whether "special needs" or not, all share more similarities than differences.

"I wanted to come out here by myself," Anthony said. "I wanted to help the community."

Anthony is an active member of Unified Champion Schools, which is a program through the Special Olympics. It's a program that puts kids in general education and special education on the same field together.

"I'm thrilled," said Ashley Middleton, "because it gives these kids the real middle school experience."

Ms. Middleton nominated Anthony for the award – she's known him for a long time. She's close with his family and has seen Lyles grow personally and toward his peers.

"I have kids who aren't afraid to be in my program or in my classroom because of kids like Anthony who come out," Middleton said.

On the day WIS caught up with both Ms. Middleton and Anthony, the Unified Champion Schools group was holding a bocce ball tournament. You'd be hard-pressed to figure out which kid had a disability, and which did not.

"Everybody's human," Anthony said. "You're not different from everyone because you're in a different class from everybody."

Anthony helps organize games and activities like this for the group since the program began at Camden Middle last year. He also helps out in Ms. Middleton's classroom.

"At the end of the day you know that they just want to be accepted," Ms. Middleton said. "They want to be accepted by kids like you they wanna be seen just as kids."

It's why Ms. Middleton immediately thought of Anthony when she heard of the Special Olympics "Be Kind Be Fearless" award.

In her nomination questionnaire, Middleton writes, "The students in my special needs class look at him like a peer, like an equal." It's kindness that's learned at home - kindness that can only be described as brotherly love.

Anthony's 6th grader sister has special needs. He helps her every day in the classroom – helping her with reading comprehension and daily tasks. He knows her language is no different from his own, and he's working to make sure others hear it too.

Whether it's his sister or another student, Anthony said he will walk with every kid side by side – because "special needs" means nothing at all when Anthony's got your back.

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