A pilot program called Your Move Chess is helping dozens of elementary school students in Ferguson, Mo. deal with the upheaval and trauma their community experienced.
Education Week reports that chess club members from Walnut Grove Elementary School met at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center recently to mark the end of the program’s first year. They celebrated, received certificates and prizes, and played one final match for the school year against a chess grandmaster.
Nearly two years ago, a police officer gunned down 18-year-old Michael Brown. A grand jury declined to charge the officer with a crime, which set off angry confrontations with police and destruction of property in Ferguson, while triggering a wave of nationwide demonstrations.
Wyntra Storms, a third-grade teacher and mentor in the program, told the Associated Press that the unrest psychologically harmed many of the students. The chess club, she said, helps to heal those wounds.
Storm told the AP:
“They are learning to focus. A lot of them, when we first mentioned chess, said, ‘I can’t do that. I’m not smart enough.’ They found out they could do it, and it really excites them.”
Ascension, the St. Louis-based Catholic health care company that partnered with the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center to offer a program, told the news agency that its survey shows the after school program is working.
The vast majority (85 percent) of the students said they look forward to attending school on chess club days; 92 percent feel more confident about learning difficult material, and 94 percent said chess taught them they’re capable of doing difficult tasks with enough effort.
Ten-year-old Tyson Stegall, a fourth-grader in the chess club, attested to the benefits of learning the game.
He told the AP: “You learn to solve problems. It has helped me with my math.”
In the premiere year of the pilot program, the chess club was open to students in 17 elementary and three middle schools in a mostly Black school district. Looking ahead, the organizers plan to expand the program’s reach.