NH education officials look to esports to help build STEM skills

Mar. 21—As participation in esports — or competitive gaming — grows across the country, education officials view the popular sport as a way to promote teamwork, engage students and boost the exploration of STEM concepts and career paths.

"Esports is the fastest growing sport in the world, and it is the most popular sport for kids in middle school and high school right now," said Tim Schneider, co-founder of Uptime Esports, with locations in Bedford, Exeter and Hanover, Mass.

"The kids that come to our program are engineering and STEM-focused students, so we try to open up a wider view of knowledge to them, other than just gaming."

Manchester Assistant Superintendent of Schools Amy Allen told school board members last week there are more than 55 students at high schools and middle schools across the Queen City currently participating in esports this school year.

The esports program is new to the Manchester School District, supported using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, a segment of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

"The level of engagement and sportsmanship has been phenomenal, where we've been contacted by the program to commend our students," said Allen. "Because of the success of the program, and the social and emotional needs (of students) we will be looking to continue and expand these programs through ESSR funding."

Southern New Hampshire University's esports team began in 2018, and a new arena for competitive gaming opened last fall.

Uptime Esports offers programs focused around competitive gaming, coding, engineering, game design and computer building. It also offers sensory-friendly gaming. Its curriculum has been designed by STEM and NAECAD-certified professional coaches, in collaboration with the New England Institute of Technology and Shenandoah University.

"We are thrilled to offer students a platform where they can learn how to build a personal computer, explore the world of cryptocurrencies and engage in critical thinking concepts — all while competing in a sport they are already passionate about," said Frank Edelblut, state education commissioner, in a statement.

"Including Uptime Esports into our growing field of Learn Everywhere programs will expand opportunities in New Hampshire and allow students to capture learning that will count toward graduation and help meet the needs of all children."

Uptime Esports is one of 15 Learn Everywhere programs approved by the state Board of Education since its inception.

Launched in 2018, Learn Everywhere allows students to earn credit for learning outside of the classroom.

State education officials approved Uptime Esports as a new Learn Everywhere program — along with Portsmouth Aikido, a nonprofit dedicated to practicing and teaching the traditional Japanese martial art of Aikido — on March 10.

"It is inspiring to have a new round of Learn Everywhere applications receive approval. Our hope is to enlarge this program throughout the year and take advantage of the different types of instruction that might not take place in a traditional school setting," said Nate Greene, administrator of the Bureau of Educational Opportunities at NHDOE.

Drew Cline, chairman of the state Board of Education, said New Hampshire high school students interested in science and technology can get a technology elective credit through Uptime Esports, a marine science credit through the Seacoast Science Center, biology, physics and chemistry credits through the New Hampshire Academy of Science, and eight different credits through First Robotics, including computer science, engineering and manufacturing — all through the Learn Everywhere program.

"We're proud to open so many new learning opportunities for our students," said Cline. "And we're just getting started."