There are 24 athlete mentors — all Olympians, Paralympians or Olympic/Paralympic hopefuls — for the 2014-15 school year. Each athlete adopts three to 10 classrooms per year in kindergarten to eighth grade from around the United States and Canada.
Each athlete mentor focuses on their own personal journey and teaches about the hard work of training, goal setting, competition and perseverance. Using video lessons and live video chats, students are engaged with their athlete mentor at least once per month.
“I love being with children and working with them,” said Olympic luger Erin Hamlin, who is one of four athlete mentors in her third year with the program. “I’ve spoken to a lot of schools over the years, and (Mesler’s) idea behind it was spot-on and makes a lot of sense, so I was excited to jump on board.”
Classroom Champions has grown substantially in its five years since it launched in the 2009-10 school year. Mesler originally started the program as the lone athlete with nine classrooms. By 2012, the number increased to 25 classrooms. For the 2014-15 school year, Classroom Champions will have a presence in 120 schools across the United States and Canada and also has a partnership with the National Olympic Committee in Costa Rica.
In the United States alone, Classroom Champions has directly mentored 3,000 kids since its inception.
In order for a classroom to be considered for an athlete mentor, the school must be high needs or lower income, where 50 percent or more of the students must be eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch. The teacher then has to apply and say why their classroom should be chosen. For a classroom that makes the initial cut, the teacher has to go through a couple rounds of answering questions such as, “How would you foresee implementing Classroom Champions?” And, “Why are your students good candidates for Classroom Champions?”
Once a classroom is selected, the athlete mentor starts working with the teacher to implement new lesson plans and subjects each month. The athlete mentor will send an introduction video to the class to relate with the students.
One time per month, the athlete mentor will send their classroom a two- to three-minute video with that month’s lesson. The athlete mentor will relate the subject to their lives, giving examples of what they do, and encouraging the kids and giving them a challenge.
Each athlete mentor also shoots to do two live chats per school year. Classroom Champions donates digital technology to the classrooms, including iPads and tablets. Last year, Hamlin Skyped with each of her classrooms separately in the winter and spring.
“It’s pretty amazing to see the even the slightest impact you can have on a kid,” said Hamlin, who is a three-time Olympian and in 2014 became first American singles luger to medal in the Winter Games, where she won bronze. “Last year I actually got to visit one of my classrooms and to see them so excited about the Olympics, have their attention and energy focused on something so positive was really exciting. They spent the entire year following my career and my season and learning all these things that maybe they wouldn’t have learned if an Olympic athlete wasn’t talking to them.”
The impact the athlete mentors have on the students they work with is phenomenal. According to metrics data collected by Classroom Champions, 84 percent of students say the program helped them do better in school.
“I remember right after I won my medal, I Skyped with a bunch of classrooms and I held up the medal in the view of my camera on the computer, and it was like a big wave of, ‘Wow,’” Hamlin said. “Everyone was so excited, it was cool feeling.
“Just seeing the impact and having a strong role model for them is really neat.”