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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Ready Teacher One: Alumna Builds Vibrant Community for Student Gamers

In her spare time while earning a teaching credential at San Diego State University, Angelique Gianas would often livestream on the popular video game broadcasting platform Twitch. Yet when she was subsequently hired as a teacher at Helix Charter High School in La Mesa, the lifelong gamer decided it was probably time to pull the plug. 

“I told myself, ‘There’s no way this can transfer over,’” said Gianas (’13, ’16, ’19), a graduate of the College of Education's teaching credential and online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. “I stopped streaming because it’s kind of a weird place to be as a teacher — I don’t want my kids to find me.” 

Four years later, it’s safe to say that the gamers of Helix found Ms. Gianas. 
In addition to teaching sophomore English, the San Diego native founded and currently facilitates two clubs that engage nearly 100 students on a weekly basis.

Prior to COVID-19, casual players would pack into a converted cafeteria every Thursday, gathering around Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch consoles to enjoy Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and other games.

Gamers with a more competitive streak would flock to the esports club to test their mettle at League of Legends in the Helix computer lab. The students organize tournaments and even utilize the school’s 3-D printers to forge trophies for the winners.

If this looks like mere fun and games to you, Gianas says think again.

“It's done so many wonderful things for my kids,” she said. “Our casual gaming club especially reaches kids who don't have a place — who haven't found their people in high school. It's a lot of kids who are not involved in sports or just haven't really found their niche. This allows them to find that.”

Transferable skills 

Gianas also points to the soft skills her students are picking up, like problem solving, communication and teamwork — “every skill an employer wants in someone they're hiring,” she added.  

During the pandemic, the two gaming clubs have also given students an outlet to stay connected to school and with one another. Club members keep in touch during distance learning via a group chat on the digital platform Discord.

“Kids are struggling to navigate distance learning just as much as we are, maybe even moreso,” Gianas said. “We talk about gaming (on Discord), but we also talk about life, the pandemic, distance learning and being stuck inside. We talk about everything. It's become such a great support network for them. 

“It's more than just gaming. It's more than just kids getting together to play.” 

Gianas is now an advocate for incorporating gaming into education. As a mentor for the North America Scholastic Esports Federation, she is focused on integrating esports into the classroom and guiding students towards gaming-related careers. She also developed a free curriculum in partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education centered on teaching students social-emotional skills through esports. 

Given her gaming background, it may not be surprising that Gianas is one of the more tech savvy teachers at Helix. Yet she credits her experience in SDSU’s online MAT with honing her aptitude with educational technology tools, such as Flipgrid and HyperDocs and screencasting.

Since the start of distance learning, it’s not just the gamers who have flocked to Gianas.

“I’ve become the person who’s teaching everyone at my school how to do this stuff,” she said, with a laugh. “I think the MAT program really helped me see the value in all of those ed tech tools. It was incredibly helpful.”