Our Story Why We Exist
Kids have what it takes, sometimes they just need a champion to help them!
As a seven-year-old immigrant from Jamaica to Canada, Akeem Haynes quickly learned “to be adaptable and comfortable being uncomfortable.” Akeem struggled with the temperature change and his mother didn’t really have the money for warm clothing, so he missed a lot of school in those first few months in Yellowknife. His mom worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and Akeem only half-jokingly says he raised himself.
As a teenager at school in Calgary, Akeem met Steve Mesler, Olympic gold medalist in bobsled, Classroom Champions co-founder, and the organization’s first athlete mentor. Steve talked to Akeem’s class about their futures and how to be accountable for their goals. This is something a growing roster of Olympians and Paralympians now do throughout the school year as part of Classroom Champions structured, technology-based programming delivered in partnership with in-class teachers in underserved communities in Calgary, and across Canada and the U.S.
At times, Akeem struggled in school and in his chosen sport of track and field. However, he had a positive and optimistic outlook, an ability to set goals and persevere in achieving them, and he could dream big dreams. With the help of mentors like his coaches, as well as Steve, Akeem built on his strengths. He completed his education and he also won a bronze medal in track and field for Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Looking back on the tough times he endured, Akeem says he wishes he had Classroom Champions when he was growing up. For him, Classroom Champions teaches kids that “nothing is unattainable,” and that “success is a state of mind.” Now one of dozens of Classroom Champions athlete mentors himself, Akeem delivers monthly lessons to students on goal setting, perseverance, fair play, and giving back to community. Having been in a similar situation to so many of his students, he can relate to them and work closely with their teachers to help them build the confidence and the camaraderie he knows they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom.
Akeem believes his purpose has always been to be of service to others. Through Classroom Champions, he gets to give back to underserved children across Canada. He also receives a lot in return, both through the training in public speaking and digital communications that he receives through Classroom Champions and through the support of his students. “When I went to visit my classrooms, I was having a tough time with the training and mentally sticking with it,” he says about his preparation for the Olympics in Rio. “Then I go and it’s like a refresher. They helped re-energize me!”
Akeem understands that “You can’t do it alone. You can’t choose success alone,” and says, “I’ve had a village of individuals help get me to where I am today.” For this athlete mentor, success comes from understanding the impact of your choices on other people as well as yourself, and from “making a choice that’s going to be beneficial for you and your family.” Classroom Champions also believes that building a community of support for the kids who need it most is the right choice to make because through those strong connections everyone succeeds.
Our Impact What We Do
Giving kids a champion to help them
Many deserving young students in underserved communities face significant barriers to obtaining the critical skills they need for personal, academic and career success. Classroom Champions provides unique mentoring for these students, partnering Olympic and Paralympic athlete mentors with in-class teachers throughout the school year to help students develop essential skills in goal setting, perseverance, fair play, and giving back to community.
“The results speak for themselves,” says one of our teachers, noting her students’ increased collaboration, empathy for others and newfound leadership skills. This growing sense of community and mutual support is not limited to students. Classroom Champions provides ongoing professional development and networking opportunities for teachers and for our athlete mentors. As leaders in educational thinking around social and emotional learning, we also ensure a bridge in students’ learning from school to home through our specialized resources for families.
Locally, in Calgary, over the past four years, Classroom Champions has been a part of impacting:
- 1,300 local Calgary students and partnered with more than 45 local teachers with the help of over 17 Olympian and Paralympian mentors.
- Teachers report increased attendance, improved behaviour and grades, and an improved classroom culture among other outcomes for Calgary students.
- Students have participated in learning about goal setting, perseverance and, just as importantly, giving back to the Calgary community.
- Calgary students, through Classroom Champions, have given back to the Veteran's Food Bank, Mayor's Food Drive, Animal Rescue Foundation, the local chapter of Women in Need Society and the Calgary Humane Society to name a few.
- We're looking to expand our impact in the Calgary area, please visit our What You Can Do section to see how you can help!
Program- wide, over the 2015-16 school year, we’re pleased to say that we’ve been a part of impacting:
- 5,100 students in 155 classrooms mentored across 7 Canadian provinces and 23 U.S. states. (19,000 students mentored across Canada and the U.S. since program inception in 2011.)
- With the help of 51 Olympic, Paralympic and college student-athlete mentors
- Delivering 320 video lessons on critical social and emotional learning (bringing our total number to 814 video lessons) in partnership with 157 teachers sharing 1,000+ lessons and activity resources with their students and student families, and receiving 1,000+ hours of teaching planning and professional development.
This past year, teachers reported that, as a result of Classroom Champions, their students showed:
- Improved personal responsibility for their behaviour (98%)
- Improved grades (92%)
- Improved attendance (89%)
Teachers reported that Classroom Champions helped them:
- Engage their students (99%)
- Made them more engaged in their work (99%)
- Made them a better teacher (97%)
Athlete mentors reported that Classroom Champions helped:
- Increase their leadership skills (100%)
- Improve their ability to share their personal stories (100%)
- Gave them a sense of having built a relationship with the kids in their classrooms (100%)
Our Programs How We Do It
We engage students through one-to-many mentoring
Our unique one-to-many mentoring approach partners Olympians and Paralympians with in-class teachers across Canada to help engage at-risk K-8 students in a safe and enriched learning environment where they can measurably develop the critical social and emotional skills needed for success both in and out of the classroom.
Athlete mentors deliver monthly video lessons and also engage with students and their teachers through live video chats and our internal Classroom Champions network. Where possible, athlete mentors visit their classrooms in person. When students realize how much their athlete mentors care about them and their futures, a connection unlike any other takes place. The student experience becomes one of excitement and voice as students see their efforts and achievements being recognized and cheered on by someone they look up to outside their immediate circle of family and teacher support.
We train and support teachers throughout the year
Quality teachers are key to students’ success. Classroom Champions partners with teachers in underserved communities, where teacher training, engagement and retention are constant challenges, to provide opportunities for professional development and a feeling of community.
Teachers apply to be part of Classroom Champions and vigorously compete each year for a place in the program. Once part of the Classroom Champions ecosystem, our teachers enjoy best-in-class training, and support from our staff of education experts and experienced teachers.
We support families to bridge students’ learning from school to home
Many families of the at-risk student population that Classroom Champions serves find themselves in challenging circumstances that lead to low educational attainment and low social and emotional skills. At Classroom Champions, we understand how critical family engagement is to a child’s success. As such, we seek to help bridge student learning from school to home through community celebration events, specialized resources, and engaging our Olympian and Paralympian parents.
We train and support Canada’s Olympians and Paralympians
Classroom Champions provides the training and tools athletes need to make the transition from outstanding role models to outstanding mentors who can actively and effectively support students track their own path to success. Through this process, students gain a way to set and achieve successful goals and develop a sense of self-worth. Athlete mentors benefit too, with this type of professional development proving to be a valuable launching pad for athletes beginning to look for career options beyond world-class competition.
Our Requests What You Can Do
Are you ready to help a child dream big and succeed?
We believe every child has the right to a champion in their corner who can help them learn the critical skills for success both in and out of the classroom. We partner with teachers and athletes to develop qualities of excellence in at-risk students that will last the rest of their lives. Here’s how you can help!
You can support financially!
In these times, our kids are taking the brunt of our struggling economy. Help us lift them up and make our schools a better place for our at-risk youth:
- Provide a one-time or recurring gift to support programming in Calgary and ensure students have the support of Canada’s Olympians and Paralympians in dreaming big dreams and achieving even bigger goals.
- Contact us to bring programming to specific schools or communities in Calgary or across Canada that you believe need our support.
You can provide pro bono or in-kind services!
- As a young organization that is growing rapidly, we are looking for support from companies or individuals who want to volunteer their expertise to make us better. Do you have services you think can help us? Please reach out; we’d love to talk to you!
Volunteer with us!
- We need your help to put on events for our students and for our donors or potential donors.
- We also can use help around the office from time to time and would love to get you involved.
Are you a teacher or know teachers?
- Apply to be a part of Classroom Champions today!