On Wednesday morning, one of the greatest basketball players to ever grace the hardwood made a surprise appearance at the Oxford Preparatory Academy’s South Orange County campus in Mission Viejo, eliciting a cacophony of cheers and screams as he strode across the blacktop during an assembly.
Taking the mic was Kobe Bean Bryant. Los Angeles Laker. MVP. Five-time NBA champion. The league’s third leading scorer of all time.
And he had a wagon full of books.
“Reading is extremely important, and I wanted to make sure I came here in the Christmas spirit bearing gifts,” he said. “So I brought 250 books that I’m donating to you guys here at the school.”
But there was more to his visit than presenting books. Bryant had come to learn how fourth-grade teacher Andrew Ntzouras was incorporating “The Punies,” a scripted podcast created by Bryant’s own Granity Studios, into his curriculum.
With an emphasis on listening and writing standards, Ntzouras plays new episodes of “The Punies” in class and asks his students to take notes. He then has them write essays summarizing the central concepts. The fourth-graders have also been tasked with creating interactive projects, such as presentations or songs, that demonstrate their understanding of the material.
Oxford leaders say this methodology aligns with the theory of Multiple Intelligences, embracing the idea that students learn — and demonstrate learning — in multiple ways.
“The Punies podcast is a great way to get kids excited about writing because the episodes contain relevant and meaningful topics to them,” Ntzouras said. “The excitement for learning the Punies brings each week is contagious. The episodes highlight themes of good sportsmanship, integrity of character, and working as a team to help children see the value in being responsible citizens in their communities and our world.”
After speaking to the entire student body, Bryant and a throng of visitors that included Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares, Oxford leaders and Capistrano Unified officials headed to Ntzouras’ classroom to watch students present summaries, conduct quizzes and display art that connected to “Punies” themes and plotlines.
The man who introduced the world to the Mamba Mentality also took a few minutes to answer some pressing questions from the class.
Do you like playing basketball?
“I love playing basketball.”
How many games have you won?
“A lot. I’ve lost a lot too.”
How many times have you broken people’s ankles?
“Too many times to count.”
Do you ever get nervous before a big game?
“I used to when I first started,” said Bryant, who retired in 2016 after 20 seasons. “And then the more and more I practiced, the less and less nervous I became. Basketball is just habit. … It’s like for a test. You get really nervous if you know you’re not as prepared as you should be. But if you study, study, and you are are completely prepared, you’re not really that nervous.”
Oxford, a public charter school authorized by the Capistrano Unified School District, is seeking to ensure its students are well-prepared, pursuing partnerships and opportunities aimed at making learning more relevant and engaging. As an example, the school says it’s soon launching an initiative called Tech Challenge 2019, encouraging students to develop their own podcasts to teach their peers valuable lessons.
“With the rapid advancement in technologies like virtual reality and access to nearly unlimited content from around the world, it’s important that, as educational leaders, we figure out ways to integrate them into our teaching,” Oxford Preparatory Academy South Orange County Chancellor Amy Kernan said. “Mr. Bryant’s appearance here today is a great example of how we can break down traditional walls that often keep our students from accessing relevant and interesting material.”
Out on the blacktop, Bryant towered over his audience in a gray sweatsuit, looking fit enough to drop 60 points against NBA-level talent if he wanted to. But these days his focus is on sharing stories through his production company, which already has an Oscar for the animated short, “Dear Basketball.”
The game-face that once glowered at opposing shooting guards is gone, replaced by an affable smile that seems to convey a genuine interest in students and how they’re learning.
“How many of you guys are on the naughty list?”, Bryant asked, prompting a surprising number of hands to shoot up.
“On the naughty list? Really? Well, we can change that. There’s still time.”