Tucker Middle School Club Makes it Cool to be a Nerd
Walk through the second-floor hallway of Tucker Middle School at 4:30 on any given Monday afternoon and you’ll hear a buzz. As you get closer to Room A202, that buzz intensifies, growing to a roar. Inside the class, dozens of pre-teen boys are locked in fierce competition, trash talking one another and sweating it out as they vie for victory.
No, Room A202 is not the school’s gymnasium. It’s a Social Studies classroom and home to the Tucker Middle School “Nerd Herd”. It’s a gamer’s paradise, complete with multiple screens, gaming systems and Dungeons and Dragons.
“My first year here, I was doing the Parents’ Night,” recalls Nerd Herd sponsor Chris Medeiros. “The parents didn’t want to ask me about Social Studies or what I was teaching their kids. All they wanted to know was ‘what is Magic the Gathering and why are our kids obsessed with it?’”
That was a lightbulb moment for Medeiros. A gaming enthusiast himself, he decided to invite his students to come after school to hang out and play. His students began inviting other students and the school soon had a new unofficial club.
“If I was in middle school, I would have loved to have something like this,” Medeiros says. “Kids need just to have fun. They’re in class all the time. Here, there are kids from different teams. They all get to come here and just hang out.”
The club also was inspired by the premiere of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, in which a group of middle schoolers form an after-school club where they play video and role-playing games. They say seeing this play out on television reinforced that embracing your inner-nerd can actually be cool.
“When we started the club [school leadership] had an issue with using the word ‘nerd’ and the negative connotation that comes with it,” Medeiros says. “This isn’t the 1980s anymore. Times have changed. We’re taking that perception of nerds and flipping it.”
“It’s perfect for us,” says seventh grader Joseph Coleman. “We’re nerds. We’re fine with it. It’s like a nerd pride club.”
“It’s a good way to interact with other people,” adds sixth grader Alan Ramirez. “I don’t have game consoles at home, so this is good.”
As far as game consoles go, Medeiros has it covered. In addition to tablets and projector screens, he has multiple TVs, a Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U and a Nintendo Switch. Thanks to an abundance of controllers, the group is able to engage in multi-player games like Super Smash Bros. as many as eight at a time.
Medeiros, a usually laid back and gregarious teacher, is noticeably more strict during Nerd Herd sessions. That’s because all the gaming equipment the students are using belongs to him personally. Medeiros will not tolerate controllers being dropped or tablets hanging off the edge of a desk. Broken equipment comes at a personal cost.
That gets at a more important point in the story: unlike some coaches or after-school tutors, Medeiros doesn’t make any additional money for running the Nerd Herd. No additional resources are given, nor any additional support, not that he asks for it. This entire club is being run by one teacher’s desire to see his students connect with one another outside the academic setting.
Now in its third year, the Nerd Herd officially has alumni. Students like Tucker High School freshman Sam Penkava stop in periodically to game with the younger kids and, although it’s not their intent, provide mentorship.
“Being a member of Nerd Herd with Mr. Medeiros when I was a middle school student gave me the opportunity to know him and my classmates beyond academics,” Penkava explains. “Nerd Herd is fun, yet very competitive. When I am able, I still go back to catch up with Mr. Medeiros and the other excellent teachers that often participate in this amazing club.”
While the Nerd Herd gives students an outlet for their energy and competitiveness, there’s also an important life lesson being taught. That lesson is about humility.
“On occasion, I play Super Smash Bros. and put them in their place,” Medeiros brags.
Seventh grader Jacob Dayoub says the teacher vs. student battles are something to behold.
“Sometimes Mr. Medeiros plays,” Dayoub explains. “When he does, it’s lots of sweaty palms and raging.”
“He’s pretty good,” Coleman adds. “He’s an ‘80s baby, so he’s been playing a long time.”
To say that the Nerd Herd is just about kids sitting around playing video games is really to miss the point. It’s about a teacher going beyond the call of duty. It’s about older teens providing mentorship to pre-teens. It’s about the blossoming of friendships that will last for years to come.
And it’s about taking a word, for decades used as pejorative and a means of bullying, and changing the perception. Call one of these kids a nerd? They take it as a compliment. That’s because a seat in Room A202 with the Nerd Herd is too cool for school.