Classroom Champions Rolls Out New Tech-Centric College Mentorship Program

March 18, 2021

JANUARY 25, 2017 - PHILADELPHIA, PA -U.S. Olympic gold medalist Steve Mesler has been altering how athletes connect as mentors with children at the grade school level. Mesler, who founded a sports nonprofit called Classroom Champions, is currently spearheading its sixth academic year of full programming.For the first time for the 2016-17 year, Classroom Champions, which involves Olympians and Paralympians, created a similar program for student-athletes to participate in called College Champions, which now includes a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania.Mesler explained that when he first sat down with Classroom Champions Chair and Pennsylvania alumnus Dave Pottruck (former CEO of Charles Schwab), the two discussed how student-athletes illustrate similar character qualities to those of Olympians: hard-working, goal setting and driven.“They’re doing it for the love of competition while attending college,” said Mesler, who added that over 19,000 students have now been mentored, with 6,000 in the current academic year alone. “Throw those factors together and the fact that the College Champions model, like the Classroom Champions model, allows kids to get to know their mentor and feel close to them, it was a perfect combination to change the culture of under-served schools and the thought process of at-risk students.”After a successful three-month pilot program in the Spring of 2016 to test the college idea, Mesler rolled out College Champions to 25 classrooms from 15 schools across Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., all of which meet the requirement that the schools serve populations in which 50 percent or more students qualify for free or reduced lunch rates.Through working with Buffalo-based tablet company BAK — which hires local talent to build their technologies — College Champions provides its classes BAK tablets that operate on Android software. Teachers and students integrate the tablets to watch mentorship lessons from the student-athletes and also create content to send back to their mentors.Cynthia Martinez, who is a teacher lead in College Champions and teaches 6-8th grade at Cooper’s Poynt School in Camden, N.J., said that her students watch the mentor YouTube videos once a month while also integrating other College Champions videos around teamwork, hard work, healthy living and additional core program values into her lesson plans.“One of the main objectives I hope my kids achieve with CC is to have perseverance to get through any obstacle that may come their way,” said Martinez, who was originally part of Classroom Champions for four years before transitioning to College Champions. “Living in Camden is not easy, and they face struggles that most kids cannot imagine. Perseverance has become one of our core values in our school and we attribute that to our work with CC. ”Added Pennsylvania lacrosse player Lauren D’Amore, who is mentoring at Cooper’s Poynt Family School: “I have had an incredibly positive experience with College Champions. By incorporating technology and sending in monthly videos that can be done on our own time, I am able to take part in this program even with a very busy schedule as a student athlete.“I am learning valuable presentation skills, and the interactions that we get with the students puts everything in a completely different perspective. It not only makes me realize how lucky I am to be playing lacrosse at Penn, but also that I can use the position that I am in to help these kids learn about the world of college, and help develop the skills that will help them get there.”Matt MacDonald is a junior on the Pennsylvania men’s basketball team and paired with two classes at Southwest Leadership Academy Charter School in Philadelphia. He said that “technology has played a huge role in communicating with the kids,” where Google Plus is one of the main forms of virtual communication either for a live broadcast or pre-recorded video for the students. Similar to D’Amore, MacDonald said that the virtual mentorship and in-person class visits has been a “rewarding and humbling experience.”“My favorite part of the program is being able to meet the kids in person at our school visits,” he added. “It’s awesome to see the hard work the kids put in at school, and I love seeing their passion about College Champions. As an athlete mentor, I get a lot out of the program myself. I learn a ton from these kids and hope that my message to them will motivate them to continue to keep working hard in school and in the community.”