GREENACRES, Fla. — Students and teachers are finding creative ways to stay engaged with each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At John I Leonard High School in Palm Beach County, a recently created club is helping them connect. Last year, the school started a gaming club for those who are passionate about video games. It is allowing those students to stay connected through the screen.
"It’s very calming to know that I have people still with me,” said sophomore Rene Ramos, club president.
Ramos says the club is about more than playing video games.
“I can help one of my friends do homework, they can help me," said Ramos. "It’s just amazing to stay connected. We can talk about things, we can all stay engaged while this pandemic is going on.”
When the club began last year, the members would meet in person to play games and tournaments. Now, it is all from a distance.
“Gaming is a platform that we can do no matter how far apart,” said teacher and club advisor John Snyder.
Snyder is the first to admit he knows nothing about gaming and has never picked up the controls. He does know how to bring people together, so when the opportunity came to him last year to start the gaming club, he took advantage.
"One thing I noticed about the gaming community is the students don’t really get together but since we built this club, it brought them together as a family," said Snyder. “This is a new type of student for me that I dearly love.”
Senior Ronald Carmona and thankful for the club that makes him feel included.
“For me, it means everything,” said Carmona. “There are a bunch of people before us that have paved their way into this internet thing and especially with gaming and if I can be a part of that to make other people’s journey easier, I am glad to help people out in that way.”
Meanwhile, Rene has big plans for the future. He hopes to get a scholarship and play professional Esports.
“It’s just crazy. I have no words to express how happy I am for the club,” he says. “I feel like there are other ways to get scholarships other than playing sports and Esports was a great way in my mind to get everybody engaged that played games. Just make a community in the school where we could all be together and we could all have a chance to gain scholarships and be more connected you know what I mean. I want to go to college. One of my main reasons for going to college was to play Esports professionally. I want to play Rainbow 6 Siege professionally in college.”
When the club began last year, Mr. Snyder didn’t know what to expect as far as participation. But the club quickly grew from about 26 members at the first meeting to 160 members strong. He has also now opened it up to students at other schools who want to get involved in the gaming community.
Because of COVID-19, Snyder worked over the summer to engage with the students and create a platform for moving forward. They now hold google meet session at least every other week. He says the students really take on the leadership with the gaming itself. They created bylaws for the club and GPA requirements.
“Because I felt you could be a gamer, but you could be a student gamer. We have student athletes, I brought that into the picture to say you should be a student gamer,” said Snyder. “What I’ve seen is a tremendous push toward keeping everyone in the loop and I think encouraging everybody in these times because I think that’s what the students need now more than ever is encouragement.”
The students are also donating to charity through a special partnership with the American Heart Association. “That’s been probably the biggest blessing we’ve had,” Snyder said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. Why is that? It’s a trifecta. It’s a win for the student number 1, it’s a win for the AHA and I think its a win for the school and the students of Palm Beach County.”
The club is also part of the High School ESports League. They hope to someday create a gaming lab on campus.