SCSD Students Learn Strategy through Chess Clubs

     Published on 8/11/16   Tagged under:    District News    Extra-Curricular    Ed Smith    Frazer K-8 School    HW Smith K-8 School    ITC    Nottingham High School   

For many students, the end of the school day means a chance to let loose—to be loud, to get outside and to run around. But at Ed Smith, HW Smith, ITC and Nottingham, students from kindergarten through high school spend the first of their after school hours sitting quietly in classrooms or libraries, focusing intently on the game of chess. Frazer students spend their enrichment period one to two days a week doing the same.
 
At Ed Smith, the Chess Club has grown from a 6-8 student mini academy a couple of years ago to a full-fledged group of about 20 kindergarten through eighth graders. Students with varying chess experience attend the weekly group, where they teach each other and compete against each other.
 
“My grandfather taught me how to play,” second grader Sophia Bayardi said. “He’s a really experienced player, so that made it easier for me to learn! Chess is fun because it’s good for your brain and I’m trying to be the smartest I can. I already have two good strategies that I can use.”
 
Eighth grader Greg Hartman-Souder added, “It’s nice to play with people who aren’t your age. They have interesting strategies!”
 
The school holds two third place team trophies from 2015 and 2016 Scholastic chess tournaments held at the Southside Academy. But for club advisor Jim Gonnella, the experience of the game itself is more valuable than any trophy.
 
“Chess is great because it allows them to problem solve and compete at the same time,” Mr. Gonnella explained. “They don’t get many chances to do that! Plus, they get to control the outcome of the game and make all of their own decisions.”
 
At the Nottingham chess club, no prior chess knowledge or experience is necessary. Eh Moemo Qui and Rebecca Zathang, both juniors, said they learned the game through their time in the chess club.
 
“I learned how to play from [ENL teacher and club advisor] Mr. Gomez-Gonzalez,” Eh Moemo said. “I like the challenge of having to outthink your opponents. Although it rarely works for me! But it’s a game of strategy, and it helps me analyze better.”
 
“I thought chess would help me think in a different way, and maybe help make me wiser!” Rebecca added. “It has—a lot! It’s made me think more in depth and to solve a problem in multiple ways. It’s even helped me with pre-calc!”
 
Frazer math teacher Kevin Burns said some of his students have also seen academic gains since joining the school’s chess team. “It’s not only a game,” he said. “Some students’ grades have gone up, and it teaches them critical thinking skills. Plus, kids like to win, but they don’t know how to lose gracefully—chess helps!”
 
The Frazer ‘travel’ chess team of six eighth grade students attends local competitions each month, while a larger group of nine additional students joins in for weekly games. Students said the game has helped them make friends in other schools, like ITC, and other Districts, like Liverpool.
 
“I like chess, because it gets my brain working,” Jordyn Cox said. “It also lets out my competitive side and has helped me learn to lose without having hard feelings.”
 
ITC’s chess club is among the largest—and most competitive—in the SCSD. Students take part in monthly competitions with other chess clubs in the area, and a case of their trophies, many noting first or second place, adorns the school library.
 
Junior Phuong Nguyen said that the club’s success is what has motivated him to improve his skills over the past couple of years.
 
“I joined because one of my friends was in the club and I wanted to join an extracurricular activity,” he said. “But the competition and the thought of winning a trophy kept me coming back. It’s all about strategy and seeing what your opponent is going to do. You have to keep calm, keep cool and be patient.”
 
ITC Math teacher Bobby Kunnath has led the group for five years, since students approached him and commented that there wasn’t an opportunity for them to play chess at the high school level as they had in middle school.
 
“As a math teacher, I appreciate that chess helps them think of different strategies to use to come to a solution,” Mr. Kunnath said. “It’s good with helping their focus and it builds a team environment because when they practice, they help each other with strategies. Plus, chess is a way for these kids to get recognized in a way they otherwise may not, so they take pride in it.”
 
Good luck to each of the SCSD chess clubs as they continue to hone their skills!