When James Moton first came to Belleville District 118, he hardly spoke.
Superintendent Matt Klosterman said he’s watched the 12-year-old grow into a curious, friendly kid.
“He’s an unbelievable success story,” Klosterman said.
James has autism, which means he has a high IQ but can struggle with social interactions.
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That doesn’t mean he’s shy.
“For a kid who is on the autism spectrum and has some challenges, he doesn’t really know a stranger, that’s for sure,” Klosterman said.
He’s seen first-hand that during lunch, James will move around the room, chatting with different groups of students and adults.
“He kind of works the lunchroom,” Klosterman said.
The outgoing seventh-grader wants to start a new club at Central Junior High, where he can socialize with other fans of “Minecraft,” a game in which players build things with virtual blocks and go on adventures.
“I would like to cooperate,” James said.
When Klosterman learned that James was prepared to pitch the idea with a presentation he created, the superintendent decided to pay James a visit. It happened to be on a day that the administrators were meeting, so Klosterman brought them along.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Klosterman said. “He walks into a room with 14 school administrators, and without blinking an eye, presented his PowerPoint, answered questions.”
“... At his age, without any challenges, would I be able to do it? The answer is probably no,” he added.
He’s an unbelievable success story.
Matt Klosterman, District 118 superintendent, on seventh-grader James Moton
James said the presentation “went outstanding.” He used data that he collected when he polled students on their interest in the club — a majority of the kids who responded said they would join.
“It was pretty much what I would have expected from James,” Klosterman said of the presentation. “A lot of research.”
James’ favorite class in school is math. And his teacher, Stephanie Hanusek, says he tests at a sophomore or junior level in the subject.
Administrators are still discussing the possible new club, Klosterman said, weighing the benefits and challenges of bringing “Minecraft” to District 118.
Klosterman said he’s read that the game can enhance kids’ creativity and problem-solving, but there are resources the district needs, including hardware and supervision, so students can play.
James said in his presentation that students would play during lunch or after school, but he also thinks “Minecraft” could be used in classroom instruction. He says teachers can make the game an assignment — gather X resources in Y days or build and act out scenes from history — or a reward for good behavior and good grades.
James has been playing “Minecraft” at home for one or two years now, he said. He likes to build cities and structures like schools. He’s also interested in outer space, and “Minecraft” has a version that allows players to build spacecrafts.
“I would like to build a spaceship that can hold at least 1,000 people,” James said.
Ever since he discovered “Minecraft,” James has been dreaming of becoming an architect, construction worker or engineer so he can build things in real life, too.
Klosterman said he’s interested to see where life takes James.
“I think the sky’s the limit for him,” he said.
Meet James Moton
- Age: 12
- School: Central Junior High School
- Grade: Seventh
- Town: Belleville
- Parents: Marco Moton and Jasmine Hasslebook
- Favorite subject in school: Math
- Least favorite subject: Language arts
- Career plans: Architect, construction worker or engineer
- Favorite music: Video game music
- Favorite video game: “Minecraft”
- Favorite food: Pizza and chicken
- Favorite restaurant: McDonald’s
- Hobbies: Playing video games, watching TV and reading articles online