When Camelback High School applied for a grant to participate in Verizon’s Innovation through Design Thinking (iDT) Program, the school had no idea that being a grant recipient would provide one of the biggest opportunities of a lifetime: Super Bowl tickets.
Dr. Quintin Boyce, principal of Phoenix Union High School District’s Camelback High School, was given four lower level seats by the Verizon Foundation for Super Bowl XLIX, the most-watched show in U.S. television history, according to Nielsen data.
“When we learned we had the Super Bowl tickets to give away, we immediately thought of the students at Camelback High School, and gave them in recognition of the work they’ve been doing and in the hope that the experience would further enrich their lives and serve as an impetus for them to continue to strive to tap into their full potential,” Justina Nixon-Saintil, Verizon’s director of Global Corporate Citizenship said in an email.
Camelback is one of four underserved schools in the country, and the only one in Arizona, participating in the iDT program, created in 2014 by the Verizon Foundation in partnership with Arizona State University, Nixon-Saintil said.
During the course of the program, students are taught through STEM skill-building how to be creative, tech-savvy problem-solvers by creating and implementing solutions for technology challenges that community small businesses confront, Nixon-Saintil explained.
With three extra tickets to football’s biggest game of the year, Boyce had to decide which students would be his three lucky guests. With a student population of over 2,000 students, Boyce had a difficult decision to make.
“It would have been really easy for me to pick a few students who I have worked with closely, but I didn’t feel like that was really equitable,” Boyce said. “So I had the idea to go on the PDA and interrupt class on a Friday afternoon before students released with this really cryptic message.”
Boyce told students that he had this wonderful opportunity that he was able to share with three students. To be considered for this opportunity, the students were to participate in an essay contest and respond to a prompt.
The prompt said for students to write about overcoming personal or academic obstacles and challenges in their lives that have aided them in becoming successful young adults.
“There was no mention of what the experience would be,” Boyce said.
Boyce received 62 essays Monday morning, the week of the Super Bowl, and by Tuesday, Boyce announced the winners of the contest and once in a lifetime opportunity to the whole school in Camelback’s TV studio.
Senior Nijah Morgan, junior Wendy Navar and sophomore Eddie Wilcox were selected as the lucky recipients of the hottest and most sought after tickets in town.
“Their response was super cool and super amazing,” Boyce said. “That was a really big highlight for them and for the rest of the community.”
The combination of the students’ stories and perseverance coupled with how well they are currently doing academically and their participation in extracurricular activities is what really stood out to me, Boyce said.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Boyce and the students arrived at University of Phoenix stadium hours before the game started to take in the ambiance and excitement of the Super Bowl festivities around the Glendale stadium and Westgate Entertainment District.
Nijah, Wendy and Eddie were so eager to go inside the stadium and be a part of football’s biggest game of the year Boyce said that they insisted on getting to their seats two hours before the game started.
“The first (amazing moment) was announcing to them that we were going to the Super Bowl and the second one was when we walked into the stadium to where our seats were at,” Boyce said. “Their reaction was pretty phenomenal; clearly they have never experienced anything like that.”
Boyce said that the students echoed that they were more than appreciative of this “once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list opportunity” and that they felt encouraged to take risks, like they did with writing an essay for this unknown opportunity, more often in the future.
“There are moments in education that have the ability to transform the rest of your life, a point where students can see the potential of their future life unrolling before them, inspiring them to strive for greater achievements: personal, academic and eventually, professional,” Rose Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation said in an email. “We, at Verizon, try to create those moments with our programs.”
Boyce, who is yet to complete his first year as principal at Camelback, said that the experiences he has had so far with the Camelback school community have been very welcoming and unparalleled to others, referring to his Super Bowl adventure and meeting with President Obama when he came to speak at Central High School in January.
“So the running joke is in your first year you get to meet the president and go to the Super Bowl, what happens next year?” Boyce said.
Only time will tell. But one could only imagine, with Boyce as their leader, Camelback will continue to move forward from here with great opportunities and programs.