At Flagstaff, Arizona’s poorest elementary school, students are learning to focus their attention, correct mistakes, anticipate consequences, and decide the best course of action.
Dozens of youngsters at Killip Elementary School spend their after-school hours lined up across from each other strategizing over chess boards, learning to plot their next moves and anticipate the reaction.
The program started over 15 years ago to offer a distraction for students in a neighborhood plagued with gang violence, but coaches and parents contend students are taking home a lot more than basic chess strategies, Fronteras Desk reports.
“I love chess because it makes me feel powerful because I’m in control. Those are my pieces. I get to decide what I do with them, how I use them to complete my goal, right? I control that,” coach Ted Komada said. “I mean there’s not too many things in life that you have complete control over. Chess is one of them.”
Thirteen-year-old Karen Marcado said learning to focus her attention, to think ahead, and to anticipate consequences has helped to build her confidence in other areas of life.
“It just actually helped me push myself,” she said. Before chess, “I would not even pay attention. But since, coming to chess got me focused on what I was actually doing.”
Parent Michelle Pedilla agreed that chess’ impact on her child extends beyond the after-school program.
“Coach Komada here likes to teach them that you want to think about your move before you do it because it might give you a consequence of, oh, you lost a piece,” she told Fronteras Desk. “So in real life they teach them to slow down and think of what they’re going to do before they do it, so that way they can think about a consequence like, hmmm, should I do that? It might get me in trouble. They look, two, three, four moves ahead. Not just one move.”
Beyond those personal successes, the Killip chess team has captured eight state titles in the last 15 years, as well as multiple trips to Super Nationals. The Flagstaff school took 4th place in Super Nationals in 2017 after raising funds to take nearly four dozen students from mostly low-income families to Nashville, Tennessee.
In The Content of Their Character, a summary of research into character formation in different types of schools from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, editors James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson discuss how schools and other social institutions “form a larger ecosystem of powerful cultural influences” that shape students’ character and citizenship. The chess program isn’t all fun and games—it’s teaching the students important life lessons.
The thrill of attending his first national chess tournament four years ago, for example, made quite an impression on 10-year-old Skyler Boyce.
“It was tons of kids!” he told Frontera Desk. “It’s fun and you get to learn stuff, like stuff that helps you in the real world.”
The U.S. Chess Center offers a series of lessons that teachers and parents can use to help kids learn the basics of chess—and important virtues like wise judgement and anticipating consequences.