At Mercy Center, one of my roles is to lead the 3rd-5th grade after-school group. Besides providing homework help and tutoring, the after-school program also includes extracurricular activities in art, science, physical activity and games. It is the role of the group leader to plan and implement these activities, as well as assist with homework and guide volunteers. One of our adult volunteers, John, who had been tutoring Antonio throughout the year, decided to go beyond homework assistance and introduce the game of chess to Antonio, who took a huge interest in the game. John discussed Antonio’s liking to the game with me and then my supervisors. My supervisors decided that I should introduce it to all of my students and create a “chess club.” So, I created a chess curriculum of sorts, and we began the program in the beginning of January.
I had many reservations about how the other students would take to it, especially in the age of digital entertainment through phones, tablets, etc. I was quite nervous that the students would complain that the game was too difficult or too boring, and that it would be extremely difficult to carry out the chess program. To my surprise, most of my 23 students have taken a strong interest in learning and playing the game! We have structured chess learning and playing every Wednesday for 45 minutes. To teach the game and to reinforce the concepts, we have done things such as instructional YouTube videos, chess trivia games, and chess “quizzes.” The kids are constantly asking to pull out the chess sets after they are finished with their homework, which is extremely exciting! It has been cool to see the students play each other, and to teach and challenge each other as they go. I love how chess is a game that is relatively easy to learn, but it is difficult to master. The basic players in my class are still learning the pieces and their movements, while the more advanced students are able to incorporate more moves and strategy. Either way, I love to see their enthusiasm for the game, and how they are able to engage with each other and think without the use of any technology. I look forward to expanding our chess club by exploring the game of chess in other contexts such as art, history and science, as well as having mini chess tournaments!
Christine Cirillo, New York City