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Why leaders from Japan visited with Forsyth esports students
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Students on Forsyth Virtual Academy's competitive esports team talk about their experience in both their esports classes and their after school esports organization. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

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Part of the Forsyth Virtual Academy esports team plays in the ACE gaming lab before NASEF members from Japan move on to tour the gaming lab at Little Mill Middle School. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
A delegation of leaders from Japan recently visited the Forsyth Virtual Academy to see how scholastic esports is helping local students learn important skills in the classroom.

The crowd visiting FVA was made up of government leaders from Ibaraki-ken and Gunma-ken, prefectures near Tokyo, along with educational leaders from Nara Women’s University and the North American Scholastic Esports Federation, or NASEF. The group is interested in bringing scholastic esports back to their own students in Japan.

Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden welcomed the delegation to the school, noting how excited the district is to help support the growth of esports.

“One thing we have found with esports is it’s a way for students to connect because they’re engaged, they’re involved in active learning, they’re not sitting passively,” Bearden said. “And because of that, they feel more connected to our schools and our school system.”

PK Graff, the FVA’s esports program director, said the school has taken care to build up its esports curriculum in a way that fosters that connection in the classroom. To begin that process, Graff said he and his team first partnered with NASEF.

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Forsyth County Schools superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden speaks to a group from the Japanese affiliate of the North America Scholastic Esports Federation. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
Creating NASEF

Gerald Solomon, founder and executive director of NASEF, told the Forsyth County News he first found himself at an esports event about five years ago and quickly realized “this is where all the kids were hanging out.”

“Especially those that weren’t the center of the basketball teams or trying out for baseball, just average kids,” Solomon said. “So [I thought] how do you reach them and give them the same opportunities as other kids?”

That is why he decided to create NASEF in 2019 with the goal of opening up esports in schools for students to use as a platform to develop Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, or STEAM, skills along with social and emotional skills.

From there, he hired a team in California that wrote an entire four-year high school esports curriculum, creating CTAE tracks students could follow from the middle school curriculum they also wrote.

It was approved by the California Department of Education in 2019 where it was then taught in 28 different schools in the state. NASEF has since spread to 2,500 schools in 49 states and has developed affiliates in 23 countries such as Japan, where leaders are working to develop scholastic esports programs.

“Everything we do and all of the curriculum is open source,” Solomon said. “It’s free. We do not charge schools or kids to play our games or to do this.”

Although California is still the only state where schools implement four-year high school esports programs for students, NASEF’s work has sparked change in Georgia.

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Members of the Japanese affiliate of NASEF visit the Academies for Creative Education in Forsyth to learn more about how scholastic esports has grown in Georgia and the U.S. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
Bringing scholastic esports to Georgia

Many industry leaders agree that, over the past few years, Atlanta has quickly become a hub for esports on the east coast with the city hosting its first Esports Summit in 2019. 

Following that event, Graff said he received a call in 2020 from the Georgia Department of Education about beginning a standard esports curriculum. The curriculum was officially approved in May 2021, and last school year was the first time Graff was able to offer an esports course and after-school club through FVA.

Students are now learning a variety of skills.

“A large portion of the work that they do in class is build their esports programs at their schools, so the classwork is application based,” Graff told the FCN. “They are working on PR, they are working on machines and actually building gaming PCs, they’re running practices, they’re helping organize their teams, they’re coaches and they’re even gamers themselves.”

Students are learning communications, graphic design, coding, marketing skills and more all through the lens of something they love — video games.

“It really boils down to esports and gaming are the best STEAM activity that I’ve ever experienced,” Graff said. “Robotics, game design, all of these other STEAM activities are very niche. Pretty much all of our students play video games. And so we can use that as a common language to create community. And then from there, we can help them find what aspect of STEAM they want to learn and do. Then that’s what they focus on in the class.”

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PK Graff speaks to the crowd as they watch a livestream of students playing "Knock Out City," a free-to-play video game accessible to students both in school and at home. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
Community and connection

Graff said the sense of community students get from connecting with a team of peers is one of the most important aspects of scholastic esports.

FVA leaders invited team members to tell the delegation about their experiences.

Each one of them said the program helped them find a real home at school that they didn’t have before.

“Scholastic esports has introduced me to a lot of my best friends, especially during the COVID pandemic era [when I was] having a hard time keeping people around and having a positive social circle,” said student D.J. Fratt, also known as doja online. “The friends I made in esports really helped me get through that period of time.”

Since the program is also available to students in Forsyth County regardless of what high school they go to, student Selene Bishop, known online as keiii, said she has connected with peers she never would have met otherwise.

“It really gives me something to look forward to at school,” she said.

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Students on Forsyth Virtual Academy's competitive esports team talk about their experience in both their esports classes and their after school esports organization. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
Future of scholastic esports

After speaking to the delegation, the team of students went to the school’s gaming lab to play a few matches of “Knockout City,” a free-to-play game where teams face each other online in a dodgeball-type competition while the delegation watched a livestream.

Graff stressed the importance of teaching students through free-to-play and cross-platform games that are available to every student.

“If there is any message that really strikes home that you take back with you [it’s] we have got to make sure scholastic esports is equitable and accessible,” Graff said. “Whether a school or organization can afford a game does not matter if that gamer cannot access that game when they go home on their own gaming console or system.”

He said accessibility is especially important if they want scholastic esports to continue to grow.

FVA is working to formalize its  curriculum and publish it through NASEF. With help from affiliates, FVA hopes to create a global esports curriculum.

“A lot of that work has already been done by NASEF, but we believe the work we have done can be used to create international esports standards,” Graff said. “We want to partner with Japan to lead this initiative.”

The delegation also traveled to Little Mill Middle School where it toured gaming labs for younger students before heading back to Atlanta to attend the 2022 Esports Summit.

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A student plays "Knock Out City" in the Academies for Creative Education gaming lab while visitors watch a livestream of the gameplay in the media center. - photo by Sabrina Kerns