The Royal Game
thousand-year argument continues to rage about chess being a sport
(or not). But there can be no argument about the avalanche of
benefits playing chess provides to public school children.
Without Chess-in-the-Schools, a nonprofit organization devoted
to bringing chess programs to schools—and, in particular, to Title
I. schools-in-need—none of these benefits would exist.
started out as the American Chess Foundation, way back in 1955,”
CEO Marley Kaplan said. “But at that time we were entirely something
else.” The mission of the ACF evolved from supporting American
chess grandmasters to bringing chess to school children beginning
in 1986. “It was the best move we ever made,” Kaplan said.
promotes focus, concentration, an ability to plan ahead, sportsmanship,
and overall emotional intelligence in students,” according to
Kaplan. “There have been a large number of psychological studies
made, all supporting these conclusions.” Studies conducted in
1991 and 1996 also support the thesis that playing chess increases
reading scores. In addition, anecdotal school data holds that
children involved in chess do their homework better, behave better,
and have superior attendance.
Chess-in-the-Schools teaches 38,000 students every school year
in 160 elementary schools all over New York City. Chess, as a
separate subject, is part of the regular school day. In addition,
the organization is an after school program, “so that any kid,
whether or not he or she happens to be in one of the classes that
were chosen for chess, can come and learn to play,” Kaplan says.
One instructor, Chess-in-the-Schools has 53—works with 20 children
on a once-a-week basis. “The instructors are all specifically
trained by us, in an exhaustive 60 hour training program spread
over two weeks,” says Kaplan. “In addition, they must attend refresher-seminars
throughout the school year. These instructors don’t necessarily
have to be chess grandmasters, though we have a few of those.
But they do have to know how to play chess, love children, and
be great communicators and exceptional teachers.” Chess-in-the-schools
also offers alumni programs to high school students wishing to
remain in the game, along with programs in academic tutoring and
Though Chess-in-the-Schools is “really about creating better people
rather than great chess players,” according to Kaplan, students
involved in the program have won several national titles, including
taking first place in every section in the recent Junior High
School National Championships.
To show his appreciation of and support for the program, Mayor
Michael Bloomberg co-sponsored the First Annual Mayor’s Cup Chess
Tournament—held at the Tweed Courthouse, right across the street
from City Hall. The twelve top Chess-in-the-Schools teams, including
P.S 279, P.S. 124, and The Renaissance School, were invited to
the exciting tournament.
The Mayor’s Cup champion turned out to be the team from C.E.S.
70 in the Bronx—but, the fact is, all the kids were winners. “This
program is just fantastic,” Askia Davis, from the Department of
Education Office of Strategic Partnerships, said. #
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