Young chess masters show they’ve got the right moves

Discover how these kids learn skills far more valuable in life than simply how to play a board game …

With boards set on long rows of tables, youthful local chess club members take on top players representing schools from 19 school districts in eight counties, in two states, and in two time zones – at the 2013 Chess for Success State Chess Tournament.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In most areas of school competition, it’s the rambunctious athletic students who bask in the limelight of their achievements.

But, at several outer East Portland elementary and middle schools, “mental athletes” have been winning praise and honor for their ability to play the game of chess.

At the 2013 Chess for Success State Chess Tournament, held at the Oregon Convention Center on March 15, organizers pointed out team members from Shaver Elementary and Parkrose Middle School, who we saw were deep in concentration at their chess boards.

The three students wearing dark blue T-shirts, facing the camera in deep thought, are members of the Shaver Elementary School after-school chess club.

“The Chess for Success program is for all students – from public schools, private schools, and for home-schooled children,” explained the organization’s Executive Director, Julie Young.

To get to the State Championship, about 1,400 students competed in regional tournaments during January and February, Young said. “Those winners advanced to the finals – and we have more than 600 kids playing chess her, today and tomorrow.”

The non-profit organization was started by three fathers who noticed that their kids who learned how to play chess well also performed better in school. Chess for Success started in 1992, as a pilot program in nine of Portland’s neediest schools.

“The school district’s research showed that participating in after-school chess clubs helped improve the children’s reading and math scores, their self-esteem, and their behavior,” Young revealed.

Chess-playing students learn valuable life skills, organizers say.

Specifically chess-playing students learn:

  • How to think ahead;
  • That there are consequences for their actions;
  • How to accept responsibility for their chess moves;
  • That the longer you study a problem, the better chance you have for a good solution; and,
  • That ability and concentration win games, not luck.

In their unique model, Chess for Success raises money to pay schoolteachers to administer the program.

“It’s simple,” Young said. “Teachers know how to teach. Our average club size is 40 members; but some elementary schools host 140 kids. Teachers are good at getting kids to sit down, listen, and concentrate. Our lesson plans help them teach the game.”

Parkrose Middle School student Max Nguyen makes his move.

There wasn’t a squad to cheer the success of Parkrose Middle School 8th grade student Max Nguyen after he won his game, but he did look pleased at his victory as he left the room.

“Chess helps us learn a way of thinking,” Nguyen told East Portland News. “It does help me think in a strategic way, and to look at problems from different perspectives, instead of just one.”

Beyond that, Nguyen added, “I think Chess for Success is really fun. It might help me get into college, but it’s pretty much it’s just fun.”

Team members representing the program at the Parkrose School District’s Shaver Elementary School, funded in part by an East Portland Neighborhood Small Grant, seriously concentrated while playing their games. But afterward, they reverted to being energetic, giggly kids.

Even though the organization runs regional and state championship competitions, “We’re not ‘in it for winning it’. We are more interested in the participants learning life skills,” Young said.

It seems that nonprofit Chess for Success has found a winning formula for helping students mature into adults who can positively contribute to society.

For more information, see their website: CLICK HERE to open it.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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