Chess clubs are thriving at Fain, Dobbs, West Manor, Usher-Collier Heights, Humphries and M. Agnes Jones elementary schools, spurred by a partnership with the Kappa Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity and America’s Foundation for Chess. Kappa provides chess equipment and training, while the foundation provides a First Move curriculum that helps students develop analytical skills, academic proficiency and self-esteem.
“It’s a game, but they’re learning math and history along the way,” said Ann Hill, a First Move teacher at M. Agnes Jones. “They’re really enthusiastic about it, and their concentration and critical-thinking skills have definitely improved. They’ve learned to think ahead and anticipate other people’s actions.”
Jones fifth-grader Nasir Campbell calls chess a game of war and strategy. “You have to attack but you also have to defend what you’re doing,” he said. “It challenges your thinking.”
Jones students have been playing competitive chess since 2005, and regularly participate in sanctioned tournaments. Jones third-grader Yusef Abdul-Hakim excelled during a recent citywide competition, before losing to a college student.
“It teaches you to think more than one move at a time,” said Abdul-Hakim. The game also teaches students to excel in other areas. Many of the club members have been recognized for attaining honor roll status or earning straight A’s.
“It can make you smarter,” said Jones third-grader Micah Maynard. “You do better in other subjects like math and science. If I keep playing, it can open a lot of doors for me in life.”
Maynard and her brother, Peter, a fourth-grader, hone their skills at home. And they’ve learned to do so without exhibiting sibling rivalry.
“Win or lose, you learn how to be a good sport,” said Micah Maynard. “And you’re having fun.”
According to Bertram Sears, a Kappa Boule volunteer, that is exactly the type of attitude his fraternity hopes to encourage.
“It exposes them to sportsmanship — the thrill of victory and gracious defeat,” said Sears.
Parent Michael Scholfield agrees. He has been more than impressed with his 6-year-old son Matthew’s improved behavior since learning the game at Jones.
“He’s more disciplined and patient,” said Scholfield.
“Chess has taught him to lose gracefully and to win gracefully — not to gloat. It’s all about doing your best.”
Chess club members from the six elementary schools compete monthly for a traveling trophy, which stays with the winning team. At the end of the year, the school with the best cumulative performance earns the trophy permanently. The winning team will also be invited to Kappa’s annual Social Action Luncheon on May 15, where individual trophies will be presented.