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06 Aug

Chess Becomes Classroom Tool

Jan 28, 2007

By Stephen Dann SPECIAL TO THE TELEGRAM & GAZETTE

A group of second- and third-grade teachers who a year ago mostly didn’t know how to play chess have implemented New England’s first curriculum program at Abby Kelley Foster Charter School in Worcester, with the help of America’s Foundation for Chess of Seattle, Wash.

There are many chess teachers and tutors in New England and many after-school, evening and weekend programs. But none of the New England states has legislated (as have New York, New Jersey and recently Maryland) allowing chess to be part of a public school curriculum. Even with such legislation, it would normally be up to school systems or individual schools to organize the effort. Enter the AF4C, with its mission to subsidize such programs with major grants.

Christine Lee, the school’s elementary librarian and the after-school chess club adviser, followed up on the AF4C offer presented in this column less than a year ago. Last May, the school and the AF4C came to terms on a grant to pay for the program, now in its fifth month. The school did not have classroom DVD players, and the foundation sent it six with TV monitors. None of the participating teachers played chess, and they have learned the game right along with the students.

On a recent tour of several of the classes, it was clear that the students were very interested, focused and stimulated by the lessons. Pupils were learning about chess and world history, discussing chivalry as well as the way the knight piece moved on the board. Both grades had already mastered the chess demonstration boards and diagrams in the algebraic notation used in our weekly chess quiz diagram.

At the end of the school day, the library and another classroom filled with students from the K-12 chess club, now in its fifth year. A host of volunteers, including parents, monitored the real game competition. The group was planning to attend its first tournament, Jan. 20 in Palmer. About 20 students from the school attended and four trophies came back to Worcester, according to one of the parent volunteers.

It may not be as easy for public school systems to emulate AKFCS, due to lack of parental volunteers, teacher teamwork and bureaucratic procedures, but in this age of stretching out fewer education dollars, every school in Central Massachusetts should investigate the grants from AF4C. The benefits should be obvious.

Answer to quiz: White wins with 1. Rd4ch NxR 2. Nc5 mate.

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