The arena is the brainchild of Superintendent Bernard Bragen, who embraced esports when he learned of the educational and professional benefits of competitive gaming. He then explained the benefits to the board of education and got its buy-in to build the arena.
Long-term, Bragen wants to expand the program by building an arena at the district’s second high school and turning esports into a team sport. He also wants to build an esports curriculum. To get there, the district first launched an after-school esports club and arena at Edison High School. Since its opening, the arena has been a huge success, with 500 students joining the after-school club.
“From the start, the goal was to catch a segment of the population that didn’t participate in other sports,” Bragen says. “They weren’t going to be the standout football player or bat .400 for the baseball team, but this gives them the opportunity to be a standout in esports and gives them the same sense of pride.”
The district has seen behavioral issues since students returned to campus from the pandemic; however, providing students with engaging activities like esports reduces misbehavior, he says.
Through team competitions, Edison High School’s esports club has helped students practice teamwork, make new friends and build their leadership skills, says Ralph Barca, the district’s chief information and technology officer.
From the start, a dedicated group of students has exhibited leadership by getting involved and providing district leaders guidance on the games they want to play and competitions they want to take part in. Barca says these very engaged students even learned to use the technology, including programming the lighting system.
They take pride in the space and help manage the equipment. “To them, it’s more than just gaming,” he says. “They feel ownership and are taking care of the environment. It has built a culture. This is a gathering place where kids may have nothing else in common, but they have gaming in common, and that is powerful.”
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Polk County Sees Early Benefits with an Esports Pilot Program
This past spring semester, Polk County Public Schools in Bartow, Fla., created esports teams in six high schools as part of a pilot to make esports part of the district’s athletics program.
When the athletic director and other district leaders learned about esports’ benefits, they embraced the idea of making esports part of the physical sports program, says Dr. Laura Sawyer, supervisor of the PCPS instructional technology team.
To support the teams, they built esports rooms in each of the six schools, featuring high-end MSI computers, curved monitors, gaming peripherals and gaming furniture, says Dr. Eddy Varela, a district technology resource specialist and trainer.
The goal is to reach students who love gaming and may not be interested in other school activities. About 110 students are part of the esports teams, including players, team managers and shoutcasters who provide live commentary during tournaments.