Mickle students learn life lessons during visit with UNL athletes

Six University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletes provided encouraging messages to Mickle Middle School students during a recent special visit.
Students from Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) and physical education classes learned a host of life lessons in the hour-long presentation. UNL soccer players Abbey Schwarz and Marissa Popoola, football players Mikai Gbayor and Jahmal Banks, basketball player Callin Hake and gymnast Sam Phillips spoke to approximately 75 students in grades 6-8.
Eighth graders Malaya, Makayla and Carmen are all members of Mickle’s AVID program. They felt they had gained a lot from listening to and meeting all six Huskers.
“I really liked hearing from all of the athletes on how they kept going with things,” Malaya said. “They were really focused on reaching their goals, which was awesome to hear.”
“It was nice to hear how they never gave up and were able to overcome their challenges,” Makayla said. “That really made an impact on me.”
Liz Sundberg felt the Huskers gave thoughtful answers during the morning. Sundberg teaches health, physical education and AVID classes at Mickle. The educator also coaches soccer at Southeast High School. She was glad to see her students have rewarding conversations with their role models.
“All of them have experienced setbacks and adversity in their lives, and for them to share that and show the students how they overcame all of that is super important,” Sundberg said. “They didn’t let those setbacks define them or keep them from getting to where they are today.”
Carmen said it was encouraging to hear from people with all types of life stories. Schwarz graduated from a smaller school in Omaha, Phillips went to a large high school in Los Angeles and Banks came to UNL after earning a diploma from Wake Forest University. Hake is double-majoring in marketing and management, Popoola took AVID classes while growing up in Kansas and Gbayor will graduate this year with a criminal justice degree.
“I liked hearing different perspectives,” Carmen said.
AVID is a set of elective courses for Lincoln Public Schools students in grades 6-12. The classes are designed to help them develop the confidence and academic skills needed for current and future success. Many students will become the first members of their family to attend college.
Mickle’s AVID curriculum largely focuses on the five skill areas of writing, reading, inquiry, collaboration and organization. Sundberg helps students learn how they can create positive outcomes in their lives with each of those talents. She also encourages them to take advanced-level courses in a variety of subjects each year.
Malaya said she was happy to hear the Huskers reinforce the importance of those lessons. All of them spoke about developing healthy practices like time management, discipline and perseverance. They have structured their daily schedules to be successful in their academic, athletic and social pursuits.
“We’ve learned a lot about things like taking good notes in our classes, so it was nice to hear them talk about that too,” Malaya said. “They showed us how that has helped them.”
Phillips told Mickle students it was important to build a solid foundation in those areas now. He said that would set them up for success in all of their current and future endeavors.
“Middle school is all about learning those life skills, and high school is about applying them,” Phillips said.
Students also learned about the value of determination and self-confidence. Popoola broke her ankle as a sophomore at UNL and tore the meniscus in her knee 18 months later. She genuinely thought about quitting soccer but decided to keep going after speaking with family and friends. She also elected to spend time volunteering while she was injured, which allowed her to positively influence others.
“That really pushed me beyond sports,” Popoola said. “It really shaped me into who I am without soccer, because there will be a day when I can’t play soccer anymore.”
Schwarz shared how one of her high school teachers told her she should quit soccer to focus on another sport, and Hake spoke about how her nine years in dance school had helped her become more poised under pressure. Gbayor, Popoola, Banks and Phillips also said they had been able to overcome naysayers in their lives.
“I had a lot of people who doubted me,” Gbayor said. “The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to just ignore them. It’s not easy, but just block them out and believe in yourself.”
“I think it’s really important to know what you want and who you are, and not to sacrifice those things just because of something someone else might want,” Schwarz said. “The most important thing is to believe in what you can do.”
Sundberg said she was grateful to the Huskers for giving up their time to encourage everyone at Mickle. She said students had gained many positive memories from the experience.
“It really speaks to the type of character these student-athletes have,” Sundberg said. “For them to want to help our students is awesome. Even if you’re not into sports, there are a ton of things that you can learn from hearing their stories. This is really good for our students.”

If you want to know more about the AVID program or nominate a student, visit our website at https://home.lps.org/curriculum/avid/.

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Published: February 8, 2024, Updated: February 8, 2024

From left, University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletes Jahmal Banks, Marissa Popoola and Sam Phillips talk with Mickle Middle School students during a recent special visit. Abbey Schwarz, Callin Hake and Mikai Gbayor also spoke with approximately 75 students during the morning. They encouraged students from Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) and physical education classes throughout the hourlong presentation.