After four months of listening to “The Punies” podcast and identifying with the stories, a class of third-graders at Kaiser Elementary School got to meet the people who inspired some of their favorite characters on Wednesday, Dec. 21.
Vanessa Bryant, chair and president of the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, was joined by daughters Natalia and Capri Bryant to visit teacher Sherrilynne Dangl’s classroom for a closer look at the projects each student created while learning from the Punies Lesson Series.
These lesson plans were crafted by Andrew Ntzouras, a social-emotional learning program specialist, alongside his colleagues at the Orange County Department of Education. Inspired by Kobe Bryant’s podcast, Ntzouras collaborated with the NBA hall-of-famer beginning in 2018 to develop what would now become the Punies Lesson Series.
In October, OCDE introduced the Punies Lesson Series in partnership with the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation and Granity Studios to third- through fifth-grade teachers and school counselors throughout the county.
“It’s an honor to be part of this work alongside Granity Studios and the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation,” Ntzouras said. “To be able to keep (Kobe Bryant’s) legacy going with the Punies is something I’ll treasure forever. I’m very honored to do that. Through this work, the lives of Kobe and Gigi Bryant, and their passion to inspire the next generation, will always live on.”
The Punies Lesson Series follows the story of the podcast’s lead character, Pete, and his diverse group of friends as they navigate life’s challenges and triumphs through a variety of activities. Each episode highlights themes of integrity of character, good sportsmanship and the importance of teamwork.
Turning podcast episodes into opportunities for education
Students started their Punies-themed day with an original song based on the storyline and an activity called “attitude of gratitude.” Around the colorfully-decorated room, students excitedly awaited their turns to say what they were most grateful for — some said friends, others said Christmas, while one student exclaimed, “The Punies!”
This is a typical day in Dangl’s class — with the exception of special guests — with songs, games and creativity incorporated into their everyday activities with the help of the Punies Lesson Series.
With each lesson plan, students could express what they have learned through activities of their choosing, whether it was an online quiz, a podcast episode or a board game.
“Between the music, the little commercial breaks during the podcast and relating to the characters, it’s so fun for the kids, and that’s what you need when you’re teaching,” Dangl said. “On the outside of the classroom, they have video games and all these things that are so stimulating. They need something in the classroom that’s going to keep them engaged — that’s what I love about the Punies.”
A priority of the educational series is to enhance elements of social-emotional learning with assignments that encourage students to learn from and identify with the characters’ unique personality traits. The integration of the universal design for learning model in the classroom allows for flexibility in the learning material so lessons may be adapted to students’ individual needs and learning styles.
Connecting Orange County students to “The Punies”
As the class proudly displayed its work through lighthearted activities and presentations, Vanessa and Natalia Bryant engaged in the exercises by cheering them on during music time and playing a game of Punies-themed Monopoly, made entirely by the students. Testing their knowledge of the podcast through games of Kahoot!, the students identified key details of the episodes while participating in some healthy competition with their peers.
Before students said goodbye, they performed a song called “Love In Any Language” for Vanessa, Natalia and Capri Bryant. In return, the mother and daughter gave students #PlayGigisWay bracelets as an early holiday present from the Bryants and the foundation.
Since Dangl began teaching her students the important takeaways of “The Punies,” she has noticed a difference in their ability to make responsible decisions with the characters as their role models.
Ntzouras said the classroom’s reception of the lesson series has motivated him to help educators re-engage their students following the pandemic by strengthening their skills of social awareness, self-management, self-awareness and decision-making.
Registration is now open for Orange County third- through fifth-grade teachers and school counselors who are interested in learning more about The Punies Lesson Series and resources via a free virtual introduction hosted by OCDE. The deadline for signing up is Jan. 25.