Remember those field trips you went on when you were in third grade? I remember going to the zoo, the science museum, and the symphony, to name a few. (Why someone thought that third graders would be able to sit through, much less appreciate, a two-hour long symphony... I have no idea.)
Imagine going on a third grade field trip to a Notre Dame football game. Sounds like just a dream, right? Not unless you're in Ms. Silva's third grade class. Then it's reality.
It all started three years ago, when Allison Silva's class at Taylor Leadership Academy in Stockton, California, had to decide what college they wanted to adopt for the year.
"At my school, each class adopts a different college," says Silva. "Because we're low-income, it's a low-income area, I'd say everybody that will go is going to be a first generation college student. So, it's sort of just a way for them to set that long-term goal of, this is going to be part of my life and they are aware of it."
Silva's brother graduated from Notre Dame and her father is, as Ms. Silva says, a big Notre Dame football fan. So, she might be a bit biased. But ultimately, it was the kids who voted to have Notre Dame as their school, in large part because of Notre Dame football.
"[Sports are] just sort of a natural gateway into catching their interest in college because that's something that they don't have and is not stressed in their household," says Silva. "So, Notre Dame is a natural fit. It was so funny, when I kind of presented them with a few choices it was like, 'Yeah, they're on my video game.' I'm like great, if you're going to be into it and be willing to learn about college. Whatever it takes."
Now, three years later and with a new group of third graders, Silva said this year's class has embraced Notre Dame more than any other year.
The walls of the California classroom are covered with Notre Dame and the students wear name tags with the signature leprechaun on them. Before each test, the class lines up and slaps a sign on the wall that says Play Like A Champion Today.
"It sort of gets them in the mindset of, 'I'm gonna tackle this and I'm excited for this test,'" says Silva.
To get the class' attention, Ms. Silva will yell, "Fighting!" to which the kids all respond in unison, "Irish!". When it's time to do research of their choice, it's almost always related to Notre Dame. One third grader found out she had the same birthday as Malik Zaire. After that discovery, Ms. Silva says she caught other kids sneaking on the computer to see if they shared a birthday with any of the players.
The students also write their own word problems that are centered around Notre Dame. Like this one:
Even outside of the classroom, the kids embrace Notre Dame. "Football isn't allowed at our school, so I have a Notre Dame basketball and they play basketball," says Silva. "But they say, 'We're the Notre Dame football team, playing basketball. I'm Jaylon Smith' or 'It's my turn to be Malik.'"
And, of course, the class watches Notre Dame play on Saturdays, usually at a local pizza parlor.
Last year, Ms. Silva decided to create a twitter account for her class. Not only is the account a way to share photos and videos of their love for Notre Dame but, it's also a way to connect the kids with the Notre Dame community.
"I wanted to bridge that gap," says Silva. "We know Notre Dame is a thing, we know that it's awesome, but how do I get these kids feeling like they're a part of it."
Social media was the answer. The twitter account has gotten the attention of some of the players, who will often retweet or "like" tweets from Ms. Silva's third grade class.
"It's bigger than just pressing retweet to the kids in my class," says Silva. "It's them feeling like they know [the players]. They think that Jerry Tillery wants to eat pizza with them from watching that Showtime episode."
The twitter account also caught the eye of Ted Mandell, a Film, Television, and Theatre professor at Notre Dame who is involved with producing a series of short documentaries called First Time Fans. Each documentary follows a person experiencing a Notre Dame football game for the first time.
Mandell first saw Ms. Silva's twitter account in the beginning of October, after someone tweeted at her saying that she should go to a Notre Dame game. When she responded that she had never been to one, Mandell, along with the film's director Chad Schaffler (ND '96), thought that Silva would be perfect for the First Time Fans series.
Camera crews wasted no time getting on a flight to Stockton to film Ms. Silva and her Notre Dame class.
"For me, it's all for the kids," says Silva. "So, when they said they were coming, I don't even think I could process thoughts at that point. That's been the most exciting part for me, that [the kids] felt so included in Notre Dame because these guys came out [to California]. It was like, they don't just know about us, they care about us."
A week later, Ms. Silva flew to South Bend for the Wake Forest game, getting the full Notre Dame experience.
On Friday afternoon, Ms. Silva facetimed her class to give them an update on the weekend. The kids were excited enough to see Ms. Silva at Notre Dame but when she revealed that she was being joined by Malik Zaire, the class went wild.
For the next 30 minutes, the students proceeded to ask Malik questions about football and sports in general. Mostly, though, the class asked Malik about school and what it was like to be a college student.
At one point, one of the kids asked, "Are you in the Golden Dome?" Unfortunately, we weren't. Before he said goodbye, the kids sang the fight song to Malik while he clapped along.
"Our local paper used a quote one of the kids said, 'We are Notre Dame,'" says Silva. "It's really how they feel now. It's seriously magical because they don't think of themselves as third graders. They think, we're just really small Notre Dame students and that's what they say. So the whole thing has been surreal."
Things only became more surreal for Ms. Silva on Saturday before the Wake Forest game, when she found out a generous donor had heard of her and her class and wanted to give them tickets to the Stanford game, just 80 miles from Stockton.
What was the class' reaction when Ms. Silva told them they would be going to a Notre Dame game? Watch below.
While adopting Notre Dame has given the students a group of players to idolize and a team to root for, the most important thing for Ms. Silva is what the Notre Dame football team has been able to teach this group of third graders.
"Even just through following Notre Dame, they've learned about all the colleges they've played," says Silva. "So, it's this awareness of, okay college exists, it's an option and I can do it and I can get there."
On Saturday, there will most likely be a good number of Notre Dame fans at the Stanford game. But no one will be louder than Ms. Silva's third grade class, ND Class of 2029.