Early Years of the Gaming Academy

By: Cami Swafford

In 2013, Heritage High School opened the very first Game Arts and Design Academy in the country. The Academy, which aids students in discovering their passion in the entertainment and gaming industries by using their interests to develop careers, began with twenty-eight students in 2013.

The main focus for the Gaming Academy in the first few years was molding curriculum that would help students enter the gaming industry after they graduated. Academy director Mr. Leonard Bullock, stated, “We wanted to create a full 360-degree schedule that focused on the academy.”  This meant that students’ English, social studies, physical education, visual arts, and CTE courses would incorporate the Academy’s focus into their curriculum.

In their first year of the Gaming Academy, students took Science Visualization I, which focused on digital arts and photoshop. Students also took an English class specifically designed for the Academy that focused on, among other things, persuasive writing for the gaming industry.

Unfortunately, students enter high school at different levels of math and science, so creating Academy based courses in those subjects has become a challenge that the Academy still faces today.

Throughout the first few years, the Academy faced success, as well as some struggles. An obstacle the Gaming Academy faced in its beginning stages included engaging the community. For the most part, the gaming industry markets games to young people. Despite this, almost all of the managers at gaming companies refuse to let students visit their locations because they pose a distraction to the work environment. Another obstacle the Academy had to confront was the stereotypes that come with being an avid gamer, including being lazy, violent, and disengaged. But enjoying video games doesn’t have to entail of these characteristics and the Academy has strived to show that. A third struggle that the Gaming Academy had to overcome in the early years of the program was convincing parents that there was more to the Academy than video games. Many parents originally feared that joining the Academy meant playing video games during school and not learning traditional core classes. Tearing down that wall in the mind of parents was challenging for the Academy. Despite all of these obstacles, the Gaming Academy has proven that its effect on students goes way beyond just video games.

The most important focus of the Game Arts and Design Academy is to create connections between students’ interests and the potential careers that are accessible for them. “You like to play video games. Look, that’s a computer program. You could learn how to write computer programs… Nobody talked to me about connections when I was a kid,” Mr. Bullock stated about the importance of creating a link between the passions of students and career paths in which they can pursue and thrive.

Within the first few years of being created, a small idea had flourished into an institution that has been able to encourage and enable innovation among students. Simultaneously, the Academy has been able to aide its students in gaining soft skills such as collaboration and creativity which are essential for pursuing careers in the industry. Most importantly, the Gaming Academy has provided its students with a cohort of like-minded people at a time when they needed it the most.