Steve Mesler, Olympic Gold Medalist
While I was growing up, I had many mentors in my life. They helped me to believe in myself, encouraged me to dream big dreams, coached me, taught me to never give up, and helped me to reach my potential—in school, sport and life. They were in my corner, always. They cared, and their love showed me that I mattered. Their teachings are lessons I will pass along to my own kids, and I’m so grateful for their support and guidance.
That was my experience. I may have taken it a little for granted—until I realized as a young adult that my experience was very different from many, many other kids’.
As an Olympian, I, along with many of my peers, visited classrooms across the country to speak to students. We shared our experiences and hoped to instill in kids that they could do anything they set their mind to—the old, “If we did it, you can too. Anything is possible with dedication and perseverance.”
We spoke with students about how we worked to make our own dreams come true, and how they could too by setting big goals, committing to them, and persevering when the going gets tough. These are all skills that can be learned, developed, and mastered with knowledgeable guidance and committed support.
“Let the records show the Americans won by 0.38 seconds, their first bobsled gold in 62 years. Anyone who knew Mesler understood it was so much more. It was for everyone who appreciated the sacrifice and commitment he made, what pushed him throughout his childhood, what pushed him to push the sled.”
– Bucky Gleason, The Buffalo News
I spoke to at least 10,000 kids in hundreds of classrooms, and enjoyed every experience. But at the end of the day I found myself wanting to do more. I saw first-hand that some kids needed more, and I knew they all deserved more. I started to think about what “more” should and could be.
Two things really struck me as obstacles to doing more. The first was that kids in underserved communities face significant challenges that negatively affect their education experience, classroom resources and culture, home life, physical and mental health and personal development. These kids were just getting through the days, weeks, months…. Surviving rather than thriving, let alone dreaming about or planning for their future.
My second revelation was how we couldn’t hope to create a lasting impact on these kids’ lives with one classroom visit. Impact comes from long-term exposure to a positive influence, a relationship with someone kids can look up to—someone who they believe cares about them and is committed to their well-being. A champion in their corner.
As I was taught to do by my mentors, I stopped looking at the challenges as obstacles and started viewing them as opportunities. With that mindset, my sister (a PhD educator) and I started Classroom Champions in 2009 – we wanted to do more, and felt our combined experiences and knowledge would enable us to make it happen. So, we did.
Classroom Champions is an in-classroom, scaled mentorship program that partners world-class athletes with teachers to engage students in Kindergarten to Grade 8 in a safe and enriched learning environment throughout the school year. Our holistic program is designed to help kids develop the critical social and emotional skills needed for success both in and out of the classroom.
Research shows that establishing positive social and emotional skills at a young age is one of the best ways to set kids up for future personal, academic and professional success.
How has Classroom Champions been able to make such a meaningful and measurable difference? Well, there are many reasons, but the crux seems to be that when our students realize how much their teachers and athlete mentors care about them, and how committed they are, a connection unlike any other takes place. The student experience becomes one of excitement, hope, and determination as the kids see their efforts and achievements recognized and cheered on by someone they look up to outside of any immediate support system. Classroom Champions kids know how much they matter.
Today, more than 500 teachers and 125 Olympians, Paralympians, Hopefuls, College Student-Athletes and Pro Football Players have mentored more than 25,000 students in 1,000 classrooms across 32 U.S. states, 8 Canadian provinces, St. Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, Costa Rica, and American military installations in Germany.
We are setting bigger and bigger goals as we continue to grow, and 2017 has been an incredible year. We are entering into more classrooms than ever before, our roster of world-class athlete mentors has grown, and our reach is expanding outside of North America. Most importantly, our impact is deepening. The results of our research are in, and clearly show that we are making a positive, lasting impact on students’ lives.
It is with this in mind that I am excited to announce Classroom Champions’ 2017 – 2018 campaign,‘How Better Gets Better and Better.’
Through How Better Gets Better and Better,we demonstrate how kids can succeed in reaching their highest potential when they are supported to learn key skills for academic and personal growth and success. The #bettergetsbetter campaign illustrates how the program supports, develops and positively impacts not just our students, but their families, our teachers and athlete mentors and, ultimately, entire communities.