NAECAD Interview: Julie Mavrogeorge, Fresno Unified School District

January 4, 2022

Fresno Unified School District engages with students to develop and strengthen critical characteristics associated with success, such as education, productivity, and empathy. In addition, FUeL emphasizes an equal playing field for its students to engage with one another to help build a stronger community.

NAECAD sat with Technology Support Specialist Julie Mavrogeorge to learn more about Fresno Unified School District esports and Minecraft. Mavrogeorge is also a Professional Learning Specialist for insight2execution.

What motivated the school district to engage in Minecraft and esports?

Julie Mavrogeorge: Hundreds of teachers in our district have been using Minecraft for quite some time. It is such an easy platform to do assessments and for students and teachers to join together and build out a lesson, or even create a curriculum for students to be assessed and express themselves in ways other than written form. So a lot of our teachers have already been using Minecraft.

We have found Minecraft, specifically Minecraft Esports, to be a platform that allows neuro-diverse students to grow and thrive. Many of these students who typically do not participate in traditional sports have found an arena where they can shine and become leaders. This is so exciting.

That was our motivation.

We were looking at how we were engaging younger students.  Also, reaching populations of kids that maybe have not been reached traditionally with the typical sports that kids participate in.

How is the school district educating parents about esports and the benefits to their students?

Mavrogeorge: Honestly, that is one of the more difficult things we have run into. Parents look at their elementary age kids playing Minecraft or their middle or high school students playing Rocket League or League of Legends and think they are “just playing a video game”.

We focus considerable time and energy on developing teamwork, communication, and leadership skills in our esports students. Many of our esports students haven't participated in traditional sports and esports provides a platform for them to begin developing these needed soft skills.

When we meet with parents and coaches, we stress teamwork, communication, leadership skill-building. That gets some parents on board. And even those who are still hesitant after that, we say,  join in and watch. Come into the classroom or come and watch a match online. Listen to the students and see what they are doing.

I have yet to find a parent who has said they don't want their kid involved because they see the benefits and immediately notice a change in their child, right before their eyes.

What advice would you give to other school districts looking to incorporate an esports and Minecraft curriculum for their students?

Mavrogeorge: Do it. My advice is to do it! When I started, I knew very little. One other district was doing it, and I interviewed them and said, hey, how are you doing this? What does it look like?

I'm a very linear person, so we had to look at peripherals, timelines, and we had to look at how we get buy-in from the district.

Just jump in and try it.

Start with two groups of students. Maybe it's within your classroom, and you split it in half, and you launch a world for Minecraft, and you tell them we’re going to jump in and build a treehouse. Then just watch their response.

Can you discuss what FUeL is about and why it's important for the school district?

Mavrogeorge: FUeL is the Fresno Unified eSports League. It started focusing primarily on our high school students. We began with Rocket League as our game. We wanted to provide for students who wouldn't otherwise participate in traditional sports. We wanted to offer them an arena where they could also foster their school spirit and teamwork.

We launched a league in our district, with 11 high schools and two alternative high schools Some sites had two or three teams. They participated in Rocket League for over six weeks and then had a tournament at the end.

The first season, we had over 100 students participate, and the students were thrilled, so we continued with Rocket League for a few more seasons before switching to League of Legends.

Now FUeL is not just for high schools. It has become an umbrella for our entire esports program, including the elementary Minecraft Esports. This past fall, we announced a player versus player in Minecraft. It’s essentially a Capture the Flag tournament for our middle school students. We will launch this as it’s own league in the fall.

We have created a pathway starting in fourth grade. We’re going to have Rocket League for middle and high school and Minecraft for elementary and middle school. We are hoping to add more game titles for the high school level in the future. We’re looking at Overwatch and, of course, the traditional sports games like FIFA and Madden.

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