The Utterback Middle School on Tucson’s Southside is bringing a new opportunity for students with an Esports Gaming Lounge. Principal Taranika Sanders says this is another way the school is moving in toward changing the reputation it once had.

To have a gaming opportunity for our students thats cutting-edge, thats high-tech, says that they deserve it. And it is a rare thing for a black and brown campuses to have a high-tech lab thats situated in a high-poverty community. But it wont be rare for our students, said Principal Sanders.

KGUN 9 has followed the schools development and improvements over the past year, from achieving its first B letter grade to needing more students for enrollment. This year, the school got a B letter grade for the second time in a row. Principal Sanders says shes still hoping to get the enrollment up, and this is just another attraction for families all over Tucson.


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The gaming lounge is home to the Esports Arena in partnership with the University of Arizona, where Utterback Middle School students can compete and receive feedback from college students. Assistant Principal Riki Valdez has been excited to bring the program to life since April 2023 when he first was introduced to the opportunity.

Sports are in my blood, and esports are no different. Kids still get the same values of teamwork and communication, said Valdez. He adds hes thankful for the partnerships and sponsors who have funded the high-tech gaming lounge, including:

Bialis Family Cox Communications Tucson Electric Power Educational Enrichment Foundation

The gaming lounge will allow students to play games like Rocket League, Minecraft, and Chess. For now, its a class for the Student Tech Team, but it will eventually expand to more classes and an after-school program.

Zahtaya Johnson is a part of the Student Tech Team and also participates in many sports at Utterback Middle School. She said her participation in all sports really serves the same purpose, but she enjoys esports because its a new challenge.

It kind of all just comes together because you know, its a sport. Youre going to have to talk, youre going to have to be patient, you’re going to have to see their different views. and you can also learn from it, so thats good as well, said Johnson.


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