February 06, 2024

3 min

TCEA 2024: Esports Boosts Attendance and Academic Performance in Schools

K–12 educators are using varsity- and club-level esports programs to engage students and create a sense of belonging.

Despite efforts to makes lessons more engaging, more personalized and more future-focused, chronic absenteeism continues to trouble K–12 schools across the country. Early data reflects a struggle to return to pre-pandemic attendance levels, as the percentage of absent students has only slightly improved over the past school year.

While myriad factors impact students’ decision to return to classrooms, and their ability to, one solution has consistently positive results: esports.

At the 2024 TCEA convention and exposition in Austin, Texas, experts and educators with firsthand esports experience shared some of the ways this sport brings students together and improves their academic performance.

At Hudson Independent School District in Texas, permission to participate in esports depends on students’ academic standing. “The first year, I had kids who had to forfeit games because they were not eligible,” said educator and head coach Joshua Harris in a Monday’s session, “Hosting a Live Esports Event: Light, Sound and Games!” “I have not forfeited a single game this year. Eligibility is through the roof. Kids who barely eked out freshman and sophomore year come to me and say, ‘I don’t have anything lower than a B in all my core classes.’”

Students Find Inclusion and Affiliation Through K–12 Esports Programs

Many education leaders find that inclusion is one of the biggest benefits of creating a K–12 esports program. Whether they’re created at the club or varsity level, these teams create a sense of belonging for students who may otherwise not be involved in school extracurriculars.

In a Monday session, “Zero to Hero: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating an Esports Program,” CDW education learning environment adviser Josh Whetherholt shared that he had the chance to speak with one school’s esports athletes. “One of the students mentioned that being on the team was the first time they had ever worn school colors on purpose,” he said.

He said that finding a group of like-minded peers, proudly wearing esports jerseys, having their match results announced to the school and other perks helped these students — like many others — come out of their shells.

Harris saw this transformation happen for many Hudson ISD students who previously didn’t have an interest in school. “These kids were staying after school for hours, doing what they love in an environment that’s safe,” he said.

TCEA Conferencegoers Share Their Esports Motivations

Many TCEA attendees joined sessions hoping to solve problems in their districts through the creation or advancement of esports programs.

Susie Brooks, a technology skills teacher for Hardin-Jefferson Independent School District in Texas, participated in Monday’s “Zero to Hero” session seeking an avenue to bring in students who might otherwise be left out. After seeing students’ skills with Minecraft, she began advocating for esports.

Aldine Independent School District in Texas already has esports clubs, said digital learning specialist Belinda Howell, but it’s now looking to expand into different titles. She noted HADO, an augmented reality esports game for K–12 students, as particularly interesting.

Session attendees also noted the accessibility options in esports. One said that she wanted to learn more about esports so students with varied disabilities could participate.

CDW National Esports Manager Danielle Rourke recalled her experience working with schools. “As far as disabilities of all kinds, there are many, many schools that I’ve spoken with that say many of the students participating in their esports program are autistic, and they weren’t engaged in anything else,” she said. “They started talking with their teammates and making connections and friendships where they hadn’t before.”

She also encouraged attendees to explore the Xbox accessibility controller, which helps students with physical disabilities play.

“You don’t have to be the strongest kid, the fastest kid or the tallest kid to play this. Everybody is welcome,” Rourke said. There are many reasons to bring esports into your schools “other than that it looks cool and has shiny lights.”

Story by Rebecca Torchia, an editor for EdTech: Focus on K–12. Driven by curiosity and a passion for learning, she has written for many industries, with work appearing in WeddingWire, Modern Luxury DC and Pro Construction Guide. She has also helped bring numerous podcasts to life. When she’s not working, this Pittsburgh native, now Maryland resident, enjoys hiking, D&D and planning her next getaway.