Humboldt district to add esports, continue free meals program

USD 258 school board members will introduce an esports program as a way to reach students who don't typically participate in extracurricular activities. The district also will continue to offer free meals to all students next year, regardless of the family's ability to pay.

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Local News

July 9, 2024 - 3:21 PM

Humboldt school board members, from left, Ashley Johnson, Sandy Whitaker and Nathan Ellison review information during Monday’s meeting. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

HUMBOLDT — USD 258 will add an esports program, becoming the second school district in the county to test the video game program as a way to reach students who typically don’t participate in extracurricular activities. Iola middle and high schools also will introduce esports in the next school year.

Esports is short for electronic sports. Students compete in organized online video games with multiplayer teams. 

The Humboldt district has studied esports for about two years but it was a request from a 2024 Humboldt High School graduate that apparently convinced board members to add the program. Just two days after he graduated, Alejandro Vargas-Garcia attended the May school board meeting to tout the benefits of esports, particularly for students who aren’t involved in athletics. In addition to the skills learned from competition, students can earn scholarships to college and develop expertise in science, math and computers to help in a future career. 

Humboldt school staff conducted multiple surveys of students who might be interested. One survey indicated about 40 students who are not involved in any extracurricular activities would join an esports program.

“This is in response to a specific need,” Superintendent Amber Wheeler told board members at Monday’s meeting. “For a 3A school, we have a lot of athletic activities across the board. I think athletes will be interested in this, too, but the intention is to target students we are missing.”

She’s also interested in educational curriculum that can be added through esports to teach advanced science and math skills. One class, for example, could teach students how to build a computer system. 

Initially, esports will only be offered to Humboldt High School students. Iola is offering different versions of esports at both the middle and high schools. If Humboldt’s program is successful, perhaps it can expand to middle school, Wheeler said.

The Humboldt program will use the fall semester to learn more about esports and practice using equipment. Although they’ll have just six consoles available at the school, teams of five students can play at different times. They also can participate from home, using their own device. Esports has three seasons: fall, winter and summer. Wheeler said Humboldt’s students may be ready to compete either by winter or spring. 

As Wheeler continues to put the program together, she doesn’t have exact costs. An entire year’s subscription, including an educational course and two Nintendo Switch consoles, is $3,500, but Humboldt’s cost is expected to be lower since they won’t require a full year. Also, Wheeler’s initial plan was to use gaming computers but instead, players will use the Switch consoles at a significantly lower cost. 

Continuing costs won’t be high because students compete remotely with no need for travel or uniforms. The board also agreed to pay $15 per hour for a sponsor or coach, at a maximum of 300 hours.

Food program

A summer meals program served an astonishing 3,119 lunches and 2,215 breakfasts to Humboldt children in June. Wheeler told board members about the program’s success, especially after their food service provider learned the district can provide weekend meals. On Thursdays, families can pick up a package that contains enough breakfast and lunch meals to cover Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

The board also agreed to continue a program that will provide free breakfast and lunch meals to all students, regardless of ability to pay, during the next school year. The district started the Community Eligibility Program in January and it has proven successful, Wheeler said.

The district does incur some costs, she said, particularly as food costs continue to rise. It’s difficult to estimate how much the program costs because expenses fluctuate and the district has not yet offered the program for an entire year, but Wheeler gave a rough estimate of about $30,000. “It’s a very fluid number,” she said. 

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