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CMS’ Lyles awarded for being ‘fearless, kind’

Student is one of only 10 in country to earn award

Posted: November 16, 2017 4:56 p.m.
Updated: November 17, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Anthony Lyles (left), an 8th Grader at Camden Middle School (CMS) is one of only 10 students nationwide to be awarded a 2017 Be Fearless/Be Kind Award from the Hasbro Children’s Fund. With him is Ashley Middleton, the CMS special needs teacher who nominated him for the award. Anthony is being rewarded for his work with CMS’ Special Olympics Champion Unified School program. As part of his award, CMS will receive $1,000, which will go primarily toward transportation costs for field trips and sporting events.

A Camden Middle School (CMS) 8th Grade student is receiving a special national award for being “fearless and kind” in finding ways to unify the school. Anthony Lyles, a member of the CMS basketball and football teams, is one of only 10 students in the entire country to receive the Hasbro Children’s Fund (HCF) 2017 Be Fearless Be Kind Award. The HCF sponsors the award and will give $1,000 to CMS in Anthony’s name to support the school’s Special Olympics Unified Champion School program.

Anthony is receiving the award for helping to bring mainstream and special needs students together, in effect teaching his fellow athletes and friends to treat their special needs schoolmates respectfully as equals.

Ashley Middleton, an intellectual disabilities special needs teacher with a self-contained classroom at CMS, nominated Anthony for the award earlier this fall. Middleton started the Unified Champion School program when she came to CMS three years ago when it was still known as Project Unify.

“I have known Anthony his entire life and he has been a huge part of me taking Camden Middle School from a nice school to a school that is unified,” Middleton wrote on her nomination form. “He jumped in from the very start of our program. He is one of the reasons that so many of the students at CMS have been aware of what we are doing. Anthony made our program cool.”

Middleton noted that she has known Anthony and his siblings since they were born and that his mother is a friend with whom she used to work at Food Lion.

Special Olympics Corporate Alliances Manager Nancy Lagomarcino said Be Fearless Be Kind is Hasbro’s signature philanthropic initiative.

“It empowers kids to develop compassion and empathy,” Lagomarcino said in an email. “Its call to action is simple: stand up, include everyone, and take action when you see a problem. As a part of this initiative, Hasbro is also leading a pledge to get youth to practice kindness and get involved in their communities.”

In her nomination, Middleton said Anthony participated in unified sports -- where mainstream and special needs students play sports together -- for the first time last year.

“He became a leader in 7th Grade, and some of the people he recruited have worked with the most difficult of my students,” she said during an interview with her and Anthony in the CMS teachers lounge on Wednesday. “He’s given up recesses. And he gave up a recent Saturday to help us with a bocce tournament in 30 degree weather.”

For the uninitiated, bocce is like bowling except that instead of hitting pins, players or teams score points by getting their bocce balls closest to a special ball, called a pallino (bullet, in Italian), or jack.

Is Anthony any good?

“I have to practice some more,” he admitted; he and his sister went with Middleton when she returned to West Columbia to learn enough about the game to introduce it to Unified Champion Program School participants.

Middleton said she could have up to 44 students qualify to play bocce as Special Olympians, which would really mean nearly 90 students because of their Unified Champion School buddies, like Anthony. She said the school will hold an in-home bocce event for students on Monday. Depending on how that goes, she said the school may host a tournament next spring and invite other schools to participate.

While bocce is fun, it seems basketball is nearer to Anthony’s heart. Not only did he work to help create a unified basketball team of special needs and mainstream students, he helped one special needs student actually make the main CMS basketball team.

Middleton has worked with special needs students and been part of Project Unify/Unified Champion Schools for a decade, having started at a school in West Columbia.

“I see how much it changes kids. The goal is to make (mainstream) kids happy to participate with special needs students through true friendships,” she said.

Middleton said some kids who used to work with Special Olympics when they were younger decided they were “too cool” for it now that they were in middle school. Anthony changed that, she said.

Anthony said that he joined in with the program when it was known as Project Unify because he wanted to be closer to his “Auntie,” as he calls Middleton. However, as Middleton noted in her nomination, he had something of a good ulterior motive: Anthony’s sister, Adriana, is a special needs student who became a part of Middleton’s class this year.

While Anthony served as a Project Unify buddy last year for the student who became a basketball player, he is his sister’s buddy this year for Unified Champion Schools.

“He would do anything to make sure his sister was looked at with admiration and not pity, to feel pride and not shame, to know respect and never bullied,” Middleton wrote in her nomination. “He helped bury the ‘R’ word. So, you see, him being so involved from the ground up didn’t just make Unified Champion Schools cool for Camden Middle School, he made it cool for his sister. She holds her head up high every day, and he knows he has accomplished his goals.”

Middleton said Anthony is well-loved by the students in her class.

“He can come to the class and I’ll hand him a book and he’ll jump right in and start reading to them. He can also be goofy -- that’s why they love him -- and if he weren’t being a buddy to his sister, they would probably argue over who would get to work with him,” she said.

She said Anthony and his friends’ participation in the program have helped make her students proud to be in her classroom instead of ashamed of it.

“His friends and teammates are a big part of it,” Middleton said. “Even if they don’t have a partner, they will still come in and help out.”

Anthony said he has good friends.

“They help me and I help them. They wanted to help -- when I asked, they came right away,” he said.

Middleton said there was one student in her class who had problems listening to and following directions. She said one of Anthony’s cousins came in and found ways to calm the student down. She also said Anthony has made sure people know that Adriana is just a kid.

“That’s what Anthony gets across to his friends,” Middleton said.

“Me and my sister -- we’re just like any other kids. She gets out of hand sometimes, but we have fun, too,” Anthony added. “I just tell my friends the kids are fun. They just need to get to know them.”

Unified Champion School activities include field trips and Middleton admits -- with Anthony’s grudging acknowledgement -- that some mainstream students participate just to go on those field trips.

“But, they have to be caught up on their classes before they can go,” she explained.

With Anthony in the 8th Grade, Middleton knows he’ll soon be heading off to Camden High School and said she will miss him. Thankfully, Anthony’s already agreed to come back and help, especially with basketball.

“I also wanted to do flag football, but not everyone here knows how to play,” he said.

In her nomination, Middleton said while Anthony may be a role model, that doesn’t make him perfect -- something he doesn’t shy away from.

“He doesn’t hide his flaws from the students,” Middleton wrote. “He is open and honest about his struggles with school and academics. The students in my special needs class look at him like a peer, like an equal.”

She wrote that takes courage and kindness because too many mainstream students -- and adults -- are too quick to point out they are “normal” and act like “mini-teachers” instead of friends, equals and teammates.

“It is patronizing,” Middleton wrote. “Some even put on a show in private and don’t speak in public beyond a ‘hi.’ Anthony is not like that. He is their friend in the hall, on a field trip, at a game, in the cafeteria, with his friends, with his girlfriend -- he is their friend no matter who he is around.”

Wednesday, Middleton said she hopes to have CMS become a Banner Unified Champion School. Lugoff-Elgin High School became one of eight such schools in South Carolina back in February for its efforts to provide inclusive sports and other activities for students with and without disabilities. According to Lagomarcino, a Banner Unified Champion School “exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement and respect for all members of the student body and staff.” She said there are 10 standards of excellence such schools must meet, developed by a national panel of leaders from Special Olympics and the education community.

Meanwhile, Middleton said the $1,000 being granted to the school with Anthony’s award will go primarily to transportation costs associated with taking students on field trips.

“It might pay for some food, too -- take a little bit of the burden off. But transportation -- we need that to be able to give these kids the experiences that are what middle school is all about,” she said.

When asked the inevitable “how does it feel and what does it mean” question about receiving the Be Fearless Be Kind award, Anthony had this to say:

“It feels good … to know that I did something for my school, that I did something good.”

Lagomarcino said Special Olympics has yet to finalize plans for presenting this year’s 10 Be Fearless Be Kind awards, including Anthony’s.

(The online version of this story has been updated to remove any reference to generationOn. According to Lagomarcino, generationOn, the youth division of Points of Light, has no connection to the Be Fearless Be Kind awards. generationOn was included in the story due to incorrect information being provided to the C-I. A clarification appears in our Tuesday, Nov. 21 print edition.)

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