Students at Odyssey Grow Through Esports
At one Florida 6-12 school, esports is the tool that enables children to find themselves and mature.
Coach Donte Jewett runs the esports program at Odyssey Charter School in Florida, but he doesn’t just want to train better players; he’s here to create better students.
“The first thing I tell them is that the first step towards success is success outside of the program. It’s more than just playing video games. You have to be a good person, a good student, and a good team player.”
Jewett, who teaches video game development, is used to using games to connect with students. When the pandemic hit and schools went online, the teacher needed a way to reach out to his struggling students when they weren’t in the classroom.
“I wanted to give the kids a reason to love school. During COVID, they needed community, so we started an esports team so kids that were struggling could play video games together. We started at four players – now we’re at 70.”
While Jewett was happy to create an outlet for his students, he left that subsequent growth up to the players themselves.
“If a kid wanted to start a new title, they needed to bring a team together and I would support them. Officially, we have three teams: Smash, Rocket League, and Overwatch.”
Outside the purview of varsity esports, Jewett and his fellow coaches also manage programs for Odyssey’s pre-teen population.
“My middle school students also come in during practice and watch the varsity teams compete. It helps because when the younger bunch comes in, they're not as mature, so seeing the rest of the team and how they handle themselves plays a huge part in how they grow.”
“It’s more than just playing video games. You have to be a good person, a good student, and a good team player.”
Jewett says that being exposed early to values like good teamwork and sportsmanship enables younger players to develop into better players when they’re old enough to compete.
“Over a year, we teach them how not to be toxic and how to work together as a team. They go from starting petty fights to becoming best friends.”
For Jewett, giving players these tools does more than make them better athletes; it makes them better people. The coach teaches them the skills they need to lead their own program.
“I teach you how to be independent. That’s my goal. If you go out into the world, you can’t rely on people for everything. You have to be resourceful, you have to look up your own answers. You won’t always have someone giving them to you. My esports kids get that from running their program.”
That resourcefulness is how Odyssey’s burgeoning esports program has been able to grow and thrive. Though Jewett and his fellow coaches have carefully supervised their teams, they know they can rely on their students to step in whenever needed, whether it’s setting up streams or leading practice.
“As we go through a season, they see what is expected. If I ever have my hands full, they know how to pick up the ball and move forward without me,” says Jewett. “My Rocket League team struggled this year, but now they’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, we know what to work on for next year. They learn every day to get things to work the way they need them to.”
“You have to be resourceful. My esports kids get that from running their program.”
Of the 117 students in Jewett’s Game Dev course, a majority of them are either playing on one of his esports teams or are working towards doing so. One common requirement of playing on an esports team is to maintain C grades or higher in all classes; Jewett says this regulation encourages prospective members to push themselves academically as well.
“They watch the team compete, and that encourages them to get their grades up to be eligible. If a player is struggling in classes, they always have the initiative to take a break and catch up on their studies and get their grades up.”
All that hard work has already paid off. Joevan Teixeira, who was Odyssey’s Overwatch captain, graduated last year and is now at the University of Central Florida, playing on their esports team. Another of his seniors, Jonathan Mendez, is going to play at Full Sail University.
“That’s what makes me want to be a part of it, because my kids are happy. They enjoy the family and the community it brings.”
“I wanted to give the kids a reason to love school.”
Despite all of these achievements, Jewett says he still encounters challenges from some parents and faculty who are concerned about the impact of gaming on their childrens’ schoolwork.
“Everyday I still have to prove the value of our program. There’s a lot of fears about video games back from the 90s, a lot of leftover stigma. I tell them not to look at them as a bad thing - they are truly helping these kids on so many levels.”
The results, fortunately, speak for themselves.
“As they get more exposed to the benefits esports brings, they start to see why this is a positive,” Jewett explains. “What parent can say no to a child that is genuinely happy?”
Jewett reminds us that while esports programs continue to grow in high schools throughout North America, gaining support from them remains an uphill struggle in some areas. His players prove that it is one worth fighting for.