How big school districts are diving into esports
Dallas ISD leaders want all students to participate in at least one extracurricular activity.
Administrators, after observing students’ growing interest in video games, made some big strides toward their goal in fall 2019 by launching esports teams at 64 schools.
“One great thing about esports is that, with the availability of college scholarships, there are so many college and career pathways with it,” says Sharla Hudspeth, Dallas ISD’s director of student activities.
Gaming began at individual schools where esports clubs were formed by a faculty sponsor and up to 30 students, many of whom weren’t previously involved in an extracurricular activity, Hudspeth says.
“One of our esports coaches had students who were newcomers to the country, who had limited English and hadn’t been included in any activities—now, they’ve had the opportunity to be included,” she says. “The same goes for our students with learning differences. They’ve also been participating and are doing quite well.”
Students who have other interests than playing the games have also joined the clubs. “Some want to do animation, and there’s a whole broadcasting aspecting to this, and the social media and the promotion,” she says.
The same goes for Dallas ISD’s esports coaches—not all of them are master gamers. Laurie Fuentes, a librarian at City Lab High School, was new to gaming when she was recruited by her principal to lead an esports team. Students practice during lunch breaks and until 6 p.m. after school, twice a week.
Fuentes has seen students improve their grades since joining the team.
“It’s helping them develop fine motor skills and it’s helping their concentration and it’s helping them socialize when they wouldn’t normally socialize,” Fuentes says. “And they’re good to their coaches and to each other.”
But do big districts like Dallas ISD have to break the bank to start esports teams at multiple schools? Dallas didn’t, because educators choose to compete in games—League of Legends, Rocket
League, Super Smash Bros.—that were compatible with existing computers in the district’s computer labs, Hudspeth says.
Esports is ‘all inclusive’
About 130 students per building showed up when educators in Miami-Dade County Public Schools held meetings to launch esports programs at 10 high schools. As in Dallas ISD, a number of students joined to design team web sites, plan tournaments, broadcast matches, raise program funds and manage merchandising, among other roles.
“The majority of kids who applied to be members of the clubs wanted to be on the staff that supports the teams,” says Laylah Bulman, the chief strategist in Florida for the North American Scholastic Esports Federation, a national nonprofit that helped Miami-Dade develop its programs.
“It’s another feather in the cap of this model—it’s really all inclusive, it’s not just about game play,” Bulman says.
A quarter of Miami-Dade’s esports players are girls, many of whom now hold leadership positions in their programs, she adds.
The North American Scholastic Esports Federation, which also manages K-12 tournaments across the country and offers a free esports curriculum, organized esports PD sessions for Miami-Dade principals and teachers.
More from DA: How educators are diversifying esports
Educators at each school set goals for esports, such having students apply for college scholarships, creating team logos or participating in the esports track at the Future of Education Technology Conference in Miami in January.
Miami-Dade esports teachers have also created a professional learning community to share ideas for managing teams and incorporating gaming into general instruction.
Miami-Dade leaders envision expanding esports to each of the district’s 54 high schools. Esports educators there have been working closely with STEM and CTE colleagues to align their instructional programs
“The principals have been really supportive,” Bulman says. “They see esports as an import element they’re offering to students because of the scholastic component.”
Matt Zalaznick is senior writer.
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