When I was 10 years old, the idea of meeting an Olympian was something so far out there that I never dreamed it would actually happen. Seven years later, I met one. Thirteen years later, I was one, and eight years after that, I was an Olympic Champion in the sport of four-man bobsled. A funny thing happened along the way though—meeting Olympians wasn’t such a big deal anymore. My daily life was filled with them, I was one of them, and the novelty wore off.
As an athlete dedicating your whole life to one goal, it can be difficult to make connections with things outside of that goal. However, as the son of school teachers and the brother of a M.Ed. that is currently pursuing her PhD. in Educational Policy, education is a family affair. With my family’s passion serving as a reminder of what’s important, I yearned to connect the uniqueness of what I had accomplished and where life had taken me to school aged children. The inner tech-geek in me thought of all of the amazing communication technology that is so readily available these days and my sister, Leigh Mesler Parise, and I embarked on something we called “The Back to School Project” during the summer of 2009.
Connecting Students to Olympic Ideals
Our goal was to bring the Olympic Ideals back to classrooms across the country, as day in and day out we were inundated with the atrocious actions of the professional athletes so many of our young people look up to. I wanted to use the Olympic platform to show kids that if you work hard, set goals, and believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything We adopted nine classrooms, ranging from kindergarten to graduate school, and exchanged video messages, scanned letters, and e-mails throughout my third and ultimately final Olympic season of 2009-10. The technological crescendo of the program was the live Skype chats from the Olympic Villages in Vancouver and Whistler, Canada. I video-chatted with each classroom for approximately 20 minutes, giving our kids an experience that no other kids in the world had been afforded—a live chat with an athlete they knew intimately direct from the Olympic Games.The program has grown into Classroom Champions, which will make its debut in classrooms during the 2011-12 school year. We are recruiting Olympians and Paralympians preparing to compete in the London 2012 Olympics. Classroom Champions is excited to have Cisco’s support, as they are providing all 25 classrooms and all athletes with Umi Telepresence technology and Flip HD video cameras to facilitate their communication. Athletes will be sending monthly video messages and blogs and will occasionally have live chats via the Cisco Umi. Teacher collaboration also plans to be a key component to the program. As all teachers will have a Umi in their classrooms, communicating with other teachers in the program will be as easy as turning on their television. We hope to see teachers planning lessons with each other, allowing their students to work together to learn from and support shared athletes.
The most amazing part to me is that Classroom Champions is able to accomplish something that, in the days of that 10 year-old kid who longed to just meet an Olympian, would have taken a semi-trailer truck, satellite dish, cables the size of my head, and outer space. Today, all we need to do is open up our laptop or turn on our television. To me, not utilizing our amazing technological advancements to inspire the youth of our country by sharing the Olympic platform would be just plain irresponsible.
Now our goal is to encourage students in low-income schools to persevere, set goals and dream big—all the while increasing their digital literacy as we use our Olympians and Paralympians as a model for success. When you look at the statistics that are out there today, such as Gallup’s 2010 “Youth Readiness for the Future” poll, we’re being told what we already know—today’s youth need more help than ever to stay focused and follow-through with the goals they set for themselves. It’s my hope that a small group of some of our country’s most inspirational role models can help turn the tide, one classroom at a time.
Outreach to Education Leaders
As this program is still growing, we are very interested in gaining input from leaders in the education field. We are keen to work together to make this the best experience possible for the students and teachers involved, as well as those following along. Please share your ideas and thoughts in the comments section.
For more information
For more program details, including information for teachers looking to apply, please visit Classroom Champions.org.