NAECAD connected with Dr. Miles Harvey of James Monroe Middle School located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Harvey is the 8th Grade Teacher and the middle school’s Esports Coach.
NAECAD: Can you tell us more about JMMS Esports and how it got started?
Dr. Harvey: JMMS esports started five years ago as a gaming club and grew into a competitive academic esports program. Since my focus in grad school was digital literacy and game-based learning, forming an esports was inevitable. As a middle school English language arts teacher, I found myself integrating video games and VR into my classroom. My students enjoyed creating games like books, and we spent entire academic units on the exploration and investigation of the digital narrative.
The use of gaming in the classroom led to the academic esports program three years ago. After I completed my Ph.D. I decided to take the gaming club at my school to a new level. I decided to make an academic esports program from scratch, as there was no other middle school esports team in New Mexico at that time.
To start the esports program, I brought my current and previous gaming systems from home. We used the TVs we could find around school. I was limited to what I had access to, which was very little. I sometimes used the school library computers, but most of our players were console gamers and interested in different games. The school PCs did not have the proper graphics cards to run some of the games we liked in the first place. Most of the players I coached had consoles and Nintendo switches, and some would bring them in, as they were lighter and smaller than their own textbooks. The students were interested in various games, but I chose to focus on Rocket League and Super Smash Bros Ultimate.
To raise excitement for the first official season, I had school announcements, hype videos on YouTube, and tryouts with 72 students who showed up to show what they could do. We held a gaming tournament to find our SSBU players, and we had a game jam to find our Rocket League players.
We did not have anyone to compete against, but with the power of social media, we were able to find Chris Aviles’ league on the east coast and James Wood’s league on the west coast. We played teams from all around the country from the very start. During our club's first year, we participated in the first-ever middle school international esports Super Smash competition.
NAECAD: How has JMMS Esports impacted the students overall academic experience?
Dr. Harvey: Through game-based approaches, I was able not just to get my students to play against other schools; I was able to engage my students with educational topics. Through shoutcasting matches, setting up live streams, making scripts, coaching others, students were given real-world experience in a variety of settings. On top of playing, students were given a chance to learn about skills and concepts that other students around the city had yet to experience. Players turned into casters and managers, and they used their interest in gaming to help them gain interest in future career pathways.
In addition, students were expected to keep a 3.0 GPA to play. The most significant impact esports has on my students is how excited they are to learn and go to school because of their involvement in the program. In addition, they are encouraged to play additional sports throughout the school year.
NAECAD: How does JMMS Esports support and align with the school district's goals?
Dr. Harvey: The local school district has a high school esports league, and they are planning on creating an esports class for students to explore the academics involved in the field. The district would like to see our students find meaning and purpose in their academics. The use of esports in the classroom has given students a chance to find purpose in their interests in gaming and how it could connect with a future career.
The district wants to find programs that get our students involved in school, and esports players have shown a rise in attendance as a result. Esports has been a valuable tool for administrators looking to get more out of their students. We found students who get involved in esports are more likely to join esports in high school. Students who are more involved in school are more likely to graduate.
Our school district was looking to find ways to bring a vocational influence back to the classroom through esports and its curriculum is helping students get hands-on experience with their studies. The idea that esports is interdisciplinary lends itself to the vocational needs of the district who would like their students to be thinking about careers in math, science, and other challenging fields.