Lex Gillette competes in the men's long jump T11 final at the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships on July 27, 2013 in Lyon, France.
Come September, Lex Gillette will be able to give his students a first-person look at the track and field skills he himself cannot see.
The blind three-time U.S. Paralympic silver medalist and 2013 world champion in the long jump will be the first athlete mentor in Classroom Champions, which connects top-performing athletes with students in high-needs schools, to use Google Glass, the high-tech glasses designed by the search engine giant.
Classroom Champions is the only education-based organization among the five nonprofits chosen for the Giving through Glass program, which is designed to help nonprofits support the impact they’re having by sharing ideas with Google. Classroom Champions brings Olympians and Paralympians to K-8 classrooms in schools defined as “high-need” by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. The athletes then serve as mentors through videos and live chats, instructing the students on training, goal-setting and competition several times per month.
|A Google employee wears Glass at Google's Developers Conference on June 27, 2012 in San Francisco, California. Google Glass feeds the user information and uploads data and images from and to the web.|
“Quite frankly, Google Glass is affording me the opportunity to say, ‘Take a look through my eyes,’” Gillette, the defending world champion in long jump, said. “Through Google Glass, my students will be able to see what I would see if I could see. I will be taking my students through a typical training day on the track. I will be showing them what it would look like to speed down a long jump runway and soar through the air. Or what it would look like when we’re doing exchanges in relay training.”
The six-month Google Glass program will help the young students build empathy and “learn to see ability where others too often see only disability,” said Steve Mesler, president and CEO of Classroom Champions, and a member of the U.S. four-man bobsled team that won the Olympic gold medal in 2010.
In addition to a set of Glass, the five awardees each receive a $25,000 grant, a trip to Google headquarters and access to Google developers. The $25,000 grant will be used to help cover programming costs, Mesler said, noting that Google “looked to have a varied selection of participating organizations.”
The other winners are 3,000 Miles to a Cure, the Hearing and Speech Agency, Mark Morris Dance Group and Women’s Audio Mission. The winners were selected out of 1,300 applicants to Google’s Giving through Glass program.
Last week Mesler and Gillette visited Google’s offices in San Francisco and Mountain View, California, for training.
“We’ll take the next few weeks to learn more about Glass and to work with the developer who is volunteering his time through another Google contest to help us make sure Glass works seamlessly for Lex and other Classroom Champions Paralympians who will utilize Glass to share their world with students around the country,” Mesler said.
Gillette will take the device with him to a UK meet in late August then begin using it to communicate with his classroom “and the rest of Classroom Champions schools across the entire network in early September,” he said.
Mesler said Classroom Champions learned about the Google Glass program through emails and promotions to all nonprofit organizations that are registered with Google. The educational organization submitted its application on May 20, 2014 — the application deadline. The “lengthy” process involved board members, staff and volunteers “to make sure we had a great application,” said Mesler.
Mesler said Classroom Champions hopes to share with Google “some great stories of students in underserved schools around the U.S. learning what life and training is like for Lex and other Paralympians. In Lex’s case, we can’t wait to hear how students interpret what they see and explain Lex’s world to him.”
He said the students will be encouraged to write stories, poems and “other content to send back to Lex to tell him what his world looks like through their eyes.”
Classroom Champions plans to offer the use of Google Glass to other Paralympians during the six-month program, Mesler said. Participants will include track and field athletes April Holmes and Jerome Singleton as well as wheelchair rugby athlete Chuck Aoki.
“I’d also really love to be able to extend the opportunity for use to some of our alumni such as sled hockey players Josh Sweeney and Taylor Lipsett,” Mesler said.
Seeing Gillette’s accomplishments first-hand should inspire their students, according to teachers in the Classroom Champions program.
“Lex utilizing Glass will impact my students by showing and teaching them that being limited or disadvantaged in something doesn't prevent them from achieving any goal they set,” said Julieann Cappuccino, a fifth-grade teacher at Northwood Academy in Philadelphia. “Glass will allow Lex to show my students first-hand how to set goals, overcome and persevere through challenges, and teach them that along with hard work and dedication their goals are achievable, too.”
“Building empathy within the students is a huge point of importance for Classroom Champions and me,” Gillette said. “Through Glass, I believe my students will gain a better understanding of my world and how I operate in it. I also believe that kids are so creative and their imaginations are tremendous. You never know, Glass may reveal to the students something that I could be doing better in training.”
John Conroy is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. His work spans topics in technology, business, current events, sports and music. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.