Chess enhancing young students' minds

Lake Forest and Williams have clubs for students

From left, Lake Forest Elementary School fourth-graders Parys Davidson, Tyronzo Wiggins and Zvulun Suhuykha play chess during the 12th annual Chess Challenge at Lake Forest.

ERICA BROUGH/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:26 p.m.

Chess anyone?

If your student attends Lake Forest or Williams elementary schools, then you're in luck because both schools have a chess program for children in kindergarten through fifth-grade.

And registration is now under way.

Chess is a two-person board game played on a chessboard, a square-checkered board with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid. It is one of the world's most popular games, played by millions of people worldwide at home, in clubs, online, by correspondence, and in tournaments.

Membership in the club is free at Lake Forest, but at Williams, it is $125 per year; however, scholarships are available to eligible students.

At both schools, the chess club meets for one hour after school on Wednesdays, which is early dismissal day. Last school year, 60 students from Lake Forest and 50 from Williams took part in the program.

"I think chess helps kids learn to think ahead, organize their thoughts and practice good manners," said Kelley Kostamo, partnership specialist for Alachua County Public Schools and the liaison between the schools and the Alachua County Scholastic Chess Association, the organization that supports chess program in the schools.

Robert Kaplan-Stein, president of the chess association, said it promotes chess in the schools, provides chess instruction and hosts chess tournaments.

"We teach students basic understanding of chess and how to play," said Kaplan-Stein. "Chess is like the game of life in that you have setbacks you can overcome. It benefits all students and builds self-esteem."

Stein-Kaplan said each year, the chess association selects a school to host the association's annual Chess Challenge, which is held in May. Last school year, the first year chess was available at Lake Forest, the school hosted the challenge. To prepare for the challenge, every student at Lake Forest received chess instruction, a chess set to take home and a T-shirt. This school year, the challenge will be held at Archer Community School in Archer.

Diane Hill, principal at Lake Forest, said last year's chess challenge gave students an opportunity to be exposed to chess, a game that many of them did not take the time to play.

"Chess is a strategic game that promotes use of higher-order thinking," Hill said. "Which is an area we are trying to incorporate on a daily basis with our children in every subject area or aspect in life."

Valdenora Fortner, principal at Williams Elementary, said Williams hosted the annual chess challenge in 2004, which is when the program became available to Williams students.

Fortner said the Williams chess club has received many awards and recognitions, including a first-place ranking at the 2010 Florida SuperState VII Scholastic Chess held in Miami.

"Students got hooked on chess with the schoolwide Chess Challenge in 2004," said Fortner, adding that the chess club involves students from all academic levels.

"There is documented data that chess improves analytical and problem-solving skills," she said.

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