BACK TO SCHOOL: SLAM MIAMI
Athletic and physical based programs are not the sole focus of SLAM (Sports Leadership and Management School) in Miami. I soon discovered there is so much more to their range of academic programs and courses available to students and equip them with the knowledge and skills for a range of careers within the Sports Leadership and Management industry. Amongst the core curriculum of science, Language Arts, Mathematics and Social Studies the ground breaking school also offers Broadcasting in the form of Digital Television and Sports Media Production, Sports Medicine, Sports Marketing, Entertainment and Management.
Upon approaching the new building, the first thing I noticed was the arresting enclosed walkway bridge linking the top of the main SLAM 1 and SLAM 2 buildings with the school’s distinguished, attention grabbing and striking red logo.
Inside, the dinner hall is packed with excited students as school starts very early. I can only describe as being overcome with a pleasantly surprised and reassuring feeling to realise that the younger students who start at 7:30am are also provided with a free breakfast and students are taken care of beyond just educational responsibilities by SLAM. The atmosphere is always positive, upbeat and driven from the moment I step into the school each time with smiling and welcoming faces of not only the students but also the teachers and staff alike with the utmost professionalism, approachable and friendly manner who have a wealth of knowledge and skills to share and pass onto students of SLAM.
A school which is currently passing students at 95% as Pitbull highlighted on his second annual Pitbull Cruise. With the aim of getting it to 100% pass rate through the innovative program provided at SLAM.
It was a great opportunity to experience some of these valuable classes as an older overseas student but before we get to class I had to check out the main building again and say hello to some friendly faces and visit the brand new building SLAM 2 across the road.
Having seen the site almost exactly a year ago as a building site with construction in progress, it was astonishing to see how the new SLAM 2 building has come along since. With some areas still in progress inside.
First stopping by at the cafeteria area and briefly popping into a Sports Marketing class run by teacher Mrs Capdevila.
Onwards to visit the huge basketball court / gymnasium and the weights room where the Slam Titans train. The huge room where the Slam Talk Radio Studios will be homed in SLAM 2 was the next stop. Still to be equipped, it was a great moment and honour to be able to visit the space with a beautiful Miami skyline through the large windows which I can only imagine would look great as a backdrop. It is exciting to see how the partnership with SLAM Talk Radio and SiriusXM develops and the recently announced alliance with Telemundo.
Moving upwards towards the walkway seen from the outside. But not before taking a glance to the left before stepping foot on the bridge where the corner of my eye catches a very young Armando Christian Perez in a basketball team photograph.
Walking over the short walkway bridge was an unforgettable moment with the two giant SLAM logos beaming outwards on both sides. To walk from SLAM 2 back over to SLAM 1 where we are met by the gym area nearby (I was a little disorientated on arriving at the other side just for a moment but that’s OK, I heard Pitbull did the same)
SLAM Building 2 wasn’t where it ended. The school is simply growing and SLAM Building 3 is also in the making for sixth graders.
After the tour of the new building it was time to do some work and get to class.
First stop, the class of Mr Larry Milian. The Sports Broadcasting Teacher, Assistant Boys Basketball Coach and Middle School Basketball Head Coach. Larry ‘The Amigo’ Milian, a long time radio personality was also part of another moment in media history as one half of the ‘The Dos Amigos Show’ which was USA’s first Spanglish sports talk show. Now a Teacher at SLAM, Mr Milian has a very positive impact on the younger generation as students steal the title off Michael Jordan ‘The GOAT- Greatest Of All Time’ and hand it to Mr Milian.
Upon walking into his classroom the first time I couldn’t help but light up at Mr Milian’s Quote Wall that went viral on social media when Pitbull made a surprise visit only three days before. A video which featured this famous Quote Wall with motivational and inspirational quotes. Many from Pitbull and other greats in the world. Mr Milian takes us through the Quote Wall in more detail in the video below on what it is and what his personal favourite quotes are, one of which is to ‘Win The Day’ (Navy Seal quote). A quote which has become a large part of what they embody at SLAM Talk Radio in particular. Mr Milian goes to explain that if students are the best version of themselves that day then they will ‘win’ that day and do something positive each day which at the end of they can look back and say that it was an accomplishment. Something they have never done before and put the students in a positive mind-set.
The Quote Wall wasn’t the only highlight in the room as Mr Milian also has a Thanks Giving Wall where students post notes on what they are thankful for. In particular, messages of gratitude towards Mr Milian and stories of how Mr Milian has helped them seems to be a prominent theme. There is also folder filled with letters written to Mr Milian. I’m touched upon reading these letters and posts of appreciation towards a teacher. SLAM are very fortunate to have a teacher with an abundance of knowledge, skills, experience and genuine care and attention for the education of students.
With all the positivity and gratitude emanating from the walls, a folder of letters to Mr Milian to the countless students popping by just to say hello, hi, hug, goodbye to Mr Milian during my time spent it was clearly visible that Mr Milian is a very much loved and respected teacher.
With motivation and inspiration flowing through the class and an encouraging influence on the students, Mr Milian’s teaching style and approach relates to the students in a unique way. Mr Milian – everyone’s, teacher, mentor, motivator and even ‘school-parent’ that students easily seem to relate to and gravitate towards. Truly a remarkable teacher inside the classroom and outside, as I followed him into the dinner hall a few times to rev up students for the ‘tail-gate’ (another term I learnt) and get the students rowdy and excited about an upcoming SLAM Titans Basketball match, the team who made the regional finals and if won the following day would have taken them to the State Finals.
SLAM will be launching Slam Talk Radio on SiriusXM in the fall of 2018 where for the first time in radio history a school will launch a radio station that will produce national programming with the focus on sport, entertainment and journalism which is run and produced by students. As the Sports Broadcasting Teacher with a wealth of experience and knowledge, Mr Milian is currently preparing students for this ground breaking journey.
Watching a pre-recorded podcast of students in preparation of SLAM Talk Radio, it was very exciting and impressive to see what is to come on the radio show where the students in training are visibly confident, professional with strong presentation skills. Trained and coached by Mr Milian. The team that are about to make radio history in the fall of 2018.
In another exercise, students were exposed to a press conference setting in Mr Milian’s class. Where students were able to gain insight into the structure of this particular media environment first hand and gain experience asking questions. Students were the press and Mr Milian the person of interest about his career and SLAM Talk Radio. The calibre of questions, the delivery and manner in which they were asked along with the attention and engagement of the students was outstanding.
For those that know me, know that me enjoying a maths class (yes maths, I’m British!) doesn’t ‘add’ up. Let alone ask to be in one voluntarily. I prefer the Pitbull approach of “Taking my letters and making them numbers” For a long time however, I have been following Mathematics Teacher Mr Rivera’s inspirational videos, quotes and snippets of his teachings in class, style and how Mr Rivera makes maths so interesting and relate to everyday situations to deliver the message and help students understand. I was compelled to ask Mr Rivera if I could sit in his class.
Mr Rivera’s lesson starts even before his class does when you will find Mr Rivera standing outside his class during class switch overs in the corridor holding his quote on the board “The Old You And The New You Cannot Co-Exist, Eliminate One!” A tough, chilling, perhaps shocking reminder to make a choice and take action. Either way, very impactful. To recognise and decide which one you want to be. Inside the classroom, motivational quotes on and around the whiteboard and walls. Plenty of thought provoking words and phrases within. In addition to these inspirational quotes Mr Rivera has a Sports Vocabulary Drawing Wall (see video below) where students are given a math topic and assigned to draw a picture and make that math topic relate to sport (See video of student Juan Garcia below)
Mr Rivera incorporates mathematics, sports and real life examples that apply to the student age group which is what makes the experience of being in his class so phenomenal. The ability to relate and deliver certain topics such as fractions, volume, parameters of a pentagon pyramid to a real life situation in an engaging and comfortable manner is captivating. In my personal experience, an unprecedented teacher that can make maths fun and understandable with a gift to relate to students and connect with mutual respect.
Being also a Motivational Keynote Speaker, Mr Rivera brings in other aspects into his teaching methods to help build confidence and rapport skills. For example, students often walk up to the main white board to explain a math problem. If a student is too fixed on memorising and repeating what they have heard, Mr Rivera encourages students to focus on talking about what they do know and understand about the problem foremost. Letting that be the lead to how they explain the problem to the rest of the class. With the emphasis on “getting students to understand more than focus on how to release and explain the math they have learnt. If you understand the reasoning you don’t have to memorise things” says Mr Rivera.
Mr Rivera also encourages the students speaking to the class to slow down, pause and process slowly. To talk slower and draw in the attention of fellow students. Little nuggets of wisdom and techniques on getting individuals to listen and obtain engagement when speaking.
Another unusual and fun technique I found was how Mr Rivera put a math problem on the board and the students all had their own mini white boards and pens to work out the problem on. Rather than the traditional pen and paper which was very different and could see the students clearly enjoying it.
It may be a maths class but apart from the related examples, there was still an additional sports discipline element. A sense of respect between students and teachers. When Mr Rivera raises his hand, that is an indication to pay attention and be silent. The students in turn raise their hand to indicate they have received the message and stop talking or doing what they were. I found myself doing it too. Those that didn’t pay attention at the time automatically drop to the side of the class and give a few press ups (bringing in the sports discipline part). It is a Sports Leadership and Management School after all!
Mr Rivera’s classes continue to challenge students minds, and mine too. as he draws a shape on the board and asks the class what it is. All say square. Mr Rivera challenges the thought process behind the shape and tells the class it is not a square. Even I’m saying it’s a square at this point and wondering where the teacher is going with this. “What makes you think it’s a square?” as he adds the dimensions of 5cm horizontal and 15cm vertical to the shape. Making it a rectangle. Message behind it is to ask for more details and get enough information for a problem. Very interesting.
Mr Rivera also threw me out of my comfort zone to get up and talk to the students about me, British media and more. It became an open floor to ask anything and everything. I was here because I was interested in the students and their school. Never for a minute did it occur to me that they would be interested in me and so I find myself standing at the front of the class taking questions with no bars held.
It soon became apparent that no teacher wears just the ‘one hat’ at SLAM and the Head Volleyball Coach Mr Daniel Benitez is also a Broadcasting teacher at the school.
Each morning the students make announcements about the school which are heard through all three buildings SLAM 1 the main building to SLAM 2 and SLAM 3. It is the ninth graders who take control and work on the basics to bring this daily broadcast announcement to fellow students where they learn how to video edit, take pictures and write articles. The juniors are responsible for making the morning announcements. The programme is fairly young and kept to basic information this moment in time. However, the school plans to expand on having an entertainment, weather and a sports segment with additional information on what SLAM is doing outside of the school building too.
The seniors are currently working on a fifteen minute movie for which they are responsible for producing from idea to execution. The seniors are also responsible for supporting the athletics team where they film, take photographs and write articles about their games. Taking on a ‘Broadcasting Management’ role in some respects for the team. Not even the students wear the one hat in cases such as this where many programs actively integrate with another at the school and tap into the skills and resources of one another.
A very impressive broadcasting hands on program with a professional studio adjoining the classroom with the up to date broadcasting equipment.
The broadcasting students have also interviewed the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
A whistle stop to see the Sports Medicine Teacher, Ms Mujagic. The teaching room fully equipped with examination tables for athletes and where teaching is also taken out of the room and practice in real time when games are taking place where athletes may need physical attention.
l left SLAM with a clearer idea of what this wonderful school is and represents. The atmosphere at the school is full of excitement and promise. The energy and drive of the students who are brimming over with enthusiasm to learn and so very proud of their school. To the teachers and staff that are so dedicated and go above and beyond duties to teach and coach students to provide the next generation with the knowledge and skills to further their sports related career with an innovative and fresh approach. Giving the students at SLAM a competitive edge.
Firstly, thank you to everyone involved in making this wonderful experience happen. Thank you Principal Jimenez, Vice Principal Rey, Lead Teacher and Math Department Chair Mr Montelongo, Mr Rivera, Mr Benitez, Ms Mujagic, Mrs Capdevila with a special thanks to ‘amigo’ Mr Milian who took on the role as my personal guide and took me under his wing as well as teaching me all about broadcasting at the school. To all the teachers and administrators from the security, front of house secretaries to into the classrooms for your warm welcome and taking the time to talk to me and allowing me to sit in classes and learn more about SLAM with a practical approach. Thank you to the students that also made my visit really educational and enjoyable too and taking the time to talk about themselves and their projects. I’m very excited about all that is yet to come at SLAM Miami.
WALKING ON BRIDGE FROM SLAM 2 TO SLAM 1