Middle school mathletes Julie Mendez and Jesiret Salvatierra could never have imagined they would have the chance to travel on an all-expense-paid trip to a major U.S. city, meet professional athletes, and compete against students like them from across the country. Fortunately, someone imagined it for them.
“It’s been very exciting. I still can’t believe it,” said Mendez.
The two George Sanchez Charter School South (GSCSS) summer camp students made up the only all-girl team to compete in the Major League Baseball (MLB) Players STEM League Championships during MLB All-Star Week in Los Angeles, California.
The MLB Players STEM League, funded by the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) Trust, is a new baseball-inspired curriculum and board game that teaches students fundamental math and social-emotional skills. The program was created by Learn Fresh, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that leverages students’ passion for sports and entertainment to inspire science, technology, engineering, math, and social-emotional learning.
The weekend included the tournament, a trip to Los Angeles sponsored by Learn Fresh, and tickets to PLAY BALL PARK, an MLB All-Star Week event that blends baseball, softball, music, food, and technology with MLB celebrities.
The tournament, a single-elimination competition, featured four four-inning rounds of math and baseball. Teams of two from Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Texas faced off in a board game featuring a baseball field-inspired board, dice, spinners, professional baseball players’ statistics cards, and fast addition and multiplication problems.
“This is the girls’ first time on a plane, out of the state, to California, and their first opportunity to compete in something like this,” said GSCSS Afterschool Program Site Coordinator Quetzaly Harper. “Both of these girls are very quiet and shy. Watching them here in all their excitement, coming out of their shells trying to capture the full experience every moment—it’s awesome to see.”
As the girls’ math skills improved, so did their confidence, says Harper.
“At the beginning, they were like, ‘Can we use a calculator?’ But at the tournament, they were just throwing numbers out like it was nothing,” she said.
Mendez, a timid eighth grader, says the required focus of the game made her forget any competition anxiety.
“At first, I was very nervous, but I felt more relaxed when we were actually playing. I was concentrated, of course,” she said.
In January, Learn Fresh reached out to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), looking for middle schools and students to participate in the MLB Players STEM League pilot program. Word spread, and Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Afterschool, Summer, and Enrichment for Kids (CASE for Kids) reached out to the campuses it supports with 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant-funded out-of-school time programs.
“The goal of having out-of-school time programs is to give students opportunities and experience that they won’t always receive from home,” said CASE for Kids Program Coordinator Monique Smith. “I saw this program and thought of two campuses immediately.
The afterschool site coordinators from GSCSS of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans and North East STEM Academy of Raul Yzaguirre Schools For Success underwent training for the program in April. They received the curriculum materials in mid-June, which included five board game sets, worksheets, and challenge guidelines.
It wasn’t long before Harper’s students had mastered the game, so she took her program a step further by the Houston Astros and secured tickets for each of eight students. Using what they learned, the students made predictions for the game based on players’ batting averages and on-base percentages.
“Because she went beyond the initial expectations, TEA chose to reward the school and give two students a chance to compete with other programs,” said Smith.
It was the best reward Harper could have hoped for.
“It was nice for the kids to be considered and have the chance to learn something new and experience things they don’t normally get to experience. Even without the trip out here, just being able to participate in something that very few kids get to participate in is kind of cool.”