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Trading a video-game obsession for school books

First-year University of Toronto student Jordan Dell'Erede says that in high school boys need male teachers as role models.

Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Jordan Dell'Erede is sitting in Starbucks, a strapping boy-man with a BlackBerry, sporting a ball cap and honking big earphones.

He is between things - between classes, between tables of young women with books and tiny earphones, between youth and adulthood, between then and now.

Then, is what he's about to describe - the period when he "slacked off " playing video games for two to four hours a day, when he and his buddy ranked among the world's top 10,000 Halo 3 players, and when the chances that he would go to university - as an Ontario scholar no less - were smaller than an iPod.

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But here he is at 18, in his first year at the University of Toronto, drinking a strong black coffee, a male among the minority of males that end up in university.

"I'm not surprised by the statistics," he says. "It always seemed girls were at the head of the class, putting in the most effort to achieve. Guys are more focused on fun."

And fun is what he did have at school - in large part, he says, because of the male teachers who made it so. "I could relate to them," he says.

Mr. Dell'Erede had a remarkable number of them - four at Garden Avenue Public School, his west-end Toronto elementary school, and at Parkdale Collegiate, his high school, half his teachers were male. On Thursdays, he used to play basketball in the gym with his male science teacher till six o'clock.

"Male to male bonding is sort of different than female to male bonding," he explains. "We like to clash heads, over anything, sports teams, ideas, anything. Females aren't open to that as much, they wouldn't joke so much, they're more sensitive."

But he always liked his female teachers, he said, even the one who taught chemistry and called his mother in Grade 11 to pass on an ominous message - "Jordan's failing."

He had seen it coming.

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He had once been an A student right through to Grade 7, when the transition to the larger middle school threw his focus for a loop. But that's also the year he discovered Warcraft video games and the seduction of playing online against boys half way around the world.

"It was a thrill to play against a guy who could be anywhere - Japan, Russia, South America."

His friends played, too, but none of his girl friends.

"I thought I could put in the same amount of time on school work, and still get an 80, but in Grade 11, you need to spend more than an hour," says Mr. Dell'Erede, who participated in Parkdale's demanding International Baccalaureate program, a globally recognized curriculum that structures classes like university courses.

"I quit doing homework, I slacked off, I didn't want to spend my time studying," he says. "Playing video games takes you away, from calculus, or whatever - it was an escape."

When he wasn't indoors gaming, he was outdoors playing street hockey. He thought he might be a plumber, "because I was pretty much just thinking about money at that point."

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But after his chemistry teacher called home, it was his parents who made him think again.

"My mom and dad definitely tried quite hard to turn me around," he says, with encouragement, and, he admits "nagging me to stay on task."

His mother, Lorna Seeley, a daycare supervisor, and his father, Fausto Dell'Erede, who runs a produce-delivery business, told Jordan they wanted him to have the best opportunities life had to offer, and they had always made it clear that going to university was a foregone conclusion - and he believed it.

"They painted pictures of a future without an education," he says, "and it was some place I didn't want to be."

As it happens, he found particular inspiration in his Grade 12 biology class - "the human anatomy … the muscle systems and bone structures, the way things are knotted together" - and he studied hard.

He quit "lazing around" but never quit the video games, not entirely. "I just smartened up with my time management." It worked. Between Grade 11 and the end of Grade 12, he jacked up his average from 67 to 87 per cent.

"Being smart is a good thing," he says, "It gets you places."

It got him to U of T, his first choice of university, where he is now working towards a bachelor of physical education-health and a bachelor of education.

Boys do need a boost, he says. There's a growing realization "that you need to hit the books as well as the field … but I've witnessed it, too many guys still think in terms of smart as sissy and kind-hearted, not macho.

"Boys should understand social structures, and ask themselves, 'Who do you want to hang out with, affiliate your self with?' "

Mr. Dell'Erede considers himself lucky to have like-minded male friends, "high achievers" he calls them, who plan to become doctors, engineers, a politician and an artist.

Male teachers, however, also made a difference as mentors, he said. They wield a certain control over the class. "They just seem a bit more intimidating."

"We definitely need male role models," Mr. Dell'Erede says, noting that the boys at Parkdale, with its relatively high male teacher count, earned more academic awards than girls the year he graduated.

And he knows what it feels like to be a male role model. For three summers he has coached a sports program for kids at a local community centre, and found it, he says, "gratifying."

He might even become a teacher.

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