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What's the New Way of Connecting Students with Role Models?

Technology is opening up classrooms to the world unlike ever before. Steve Mesler, an Olympic gold medal winner and the President and C.E.O. of Classroom Champions, a mentoring program that brings together top athletes with students in high-need schools, talked to Big Think at the Global Education & Skills Forum about how technology enhances education. 

Mesler founded Classroom Champions with his sister Leigh Mesler Parise, a Ph.D. in education and social policy.  Together, they work to bring Olympians and Paraolympians from the US, Canada, and Costa Rica into classrooms through monthly video lessons. The athletes then meet with the students over Skype or Google Hang Out, and the students ask them questions, building on their lessons.

Technology allows us to have that repetition that’s necessary for behavior change,” says Mesler. “So I think to me that’s the biggest thing that we believe at Classroom Champions is that technology is enabling us to cause behavior change by bringing repetition into the mix.”

In the old model, an expert would drop by a classroom, give a talk to students, answer some questions, and that would be it. “We wanted to do something that would be more impactful than that one off visit,” explains Mesler.

The technology helps the athletes forge a meaningful connection with the students. “They actually form personal relationships with these kids, because the kids are able to send videos back and send content back to the athletes showing them off," he says. “We’re seeing kids that are now happy to set goals and engage and persevere better, because they’re understanding, and because their mentors are teaching them those lessons."

Classroom Champions leverages the power of repetition to help these lessons stick, and in the process, the students are also inspired by their super star mentors to dream big. “When you make that connection real," says Mesler, "you actually put an extra mentor, an extra role model in these kids’ lives, and all kinds of wonderful things happen at that point.”

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