By Jaime Aron
Four days before LSU takes on Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game, some LSU fans about a mile from the Superdome already were celebrating an impressive victory.
The fans actually were teachers and students at the KIPP Central City Academy campus in New Orleans. And the cheers were for the unveiling of a new media center donated to their school simply because the game came to their hometown.
The unveiling Thursday of their high-tech haven came as part of a $2.5 million, multi-year investment into New Orleans teachers and students powered by the College Football Playoff Foundation, the charitable arm of the organization that oversees the big game.
The Foundation is focused on K-12 teachers and, by extension, their students. Redoing libraries into media centers is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the Foundation’s work in turning the spectacle of college football into something meaningful for teachers, students and communities.
At KIPP Central City, the upgrades range from new tables and chairs all the way to computer workstations and virtual reality equipment.
“It’s a whole new world,” said Lauren Hammond, the school’s principal. “We love it. And we’re so grateful.”
Hammond said the media center will be “a comfortable, beautiful place where they can take in-school field trips to write papers. We can have reading marathons, which is where kids read for hours and hours on end so they discover the joy of reading. And the virtual reality machines? So exciting.”
The excitement was evident by the smiles on the faces of the students as they twirled around and punched the air while lost in the virtual worlds that only they could see on the screens strapped to their heads.
“It’s cool to see that,” said Britton Banowsky, executive director of the CFP Foundation. “It’s really rewarding for us. … It really is a partnership of a lot of folks in the community.”
The project stemmed from the Foundation’s work with the school district, the local host committee, the Sugar Bowl and the Sun Belt Conference. The lasting impact goes beyond buying things for schools. The crux of the investment is in recruiting, retaining and recognizing local teachers in hopes of reversing an extremely high turnover rate.
“They’re learning so they can bring it back to the classroom so that every student in New Orleans will be able to receive a high-quality education that will let them be prepared and be able to thrive in life,” said Dr. Henderson Lewis, Superintendent of Schools.
Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill talked about college football being “rooted in education,” and how everyone is impacted by teachers. As someone who lives and works in the community, he’s especially proud to support these educators and their students. He called this “just the beginning” of the conference’s involvement.
“We want to make sure we have done everything we can so that all students can have the opportunity to do whatever they want in life and know there are no barriers that education can’t overcome,” he said.
Added Jeff Hundley, executive director of the Sugar Bowl and of the host committee: “We make our living doing fun and games, working in college football. It’s pretty cool. But through the efforts of the College Football Playoff Foundation, we’re reminded that college football has a soul. They don’t just come to your city and take. They’re helping. They come and really make a difference, and we think we’re going to do that not just this year but beyond.”