UNION, NJ – Burnet Middle School students played host to a special guest recently when Loretta Claiborne, a world famous speaker who competed in six Special Olympic Games, visited.

Claiborne came to Burnet Middle School to film a documentary on the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary.  Burnet Middle School was chosen because of their Unified Sports Program and Club.

Claiborne told students about education back in the 1960’s and how inclusion was not an option for her while she attended school. Claiborne was born partially blind and was unable to talk or walk until the age of four. She shared her struggles, her fight and the ways the Special Olympics changed her life.

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Students were able to share their personal feelings on Unified Sports and the ways in which Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools has changed their school, communities and personal lives. The Special Olympic Unified Champion Schools provides opportunities for students with and without disabilities to become leaders and agents of change.

“We have to teach our students the importance of inclusion,” said Burnet Middle School teacher Diana Pielech.  “We can all be leaders in our schools and communities and I am grateful for the opportunities Special Olympics has given our students. The support from our administration and athletic director has been critical in helping to expand our program and provide these opportunities to our students. We are so lucky to have that support at Burnet and even luckier Special Olympics views us as a model school for the Unified Program.”

Eight grader Shaniya Samuels said, “I was honored and inspired to have Loretta come talk to me.  I hope to speak just like her one day.”

“I realize how important this program is for our school,” added eighth grader Ian McGee.  “We are leaders and role models for our peers. It was awesome having Loretta here.”

Claibone was honored with the 1996 Arthur Ashe Espy Courage Award and has won ten medals throughout her Olympic career. Claiborne was the first Special Olympics athlete elected to the Special Olympics International Board of Directors.