Purchase of chess sets to help establish chess as part of the curriculum and after school club

Educator Name: James Reynolds
School Name: Lancaster School


In his paper, “Why Offer Chess in Schools”, Chess master Jerry Meyers said, “We have brought chess to the schools because we believe it directly contributes to academic performance. Chess makes kids smarter… As a result, children become more critical thinkers, better problem solvers, and more independent decision makers”. I would like to offer chess as an activity to be taught and practiced in an after-school chess program, offered to students in grades 6,7, and 8. Students may participate in after-school chess sessions where chess is taught and played, with an eye to improving academic performance. The opportunity to play chess may also be used in class as a learning intervention and incentive. This application requests funds to purchase chess sets. Initially, I envision a maximum of 20 chess games running concurrently during the after school program. As students become familiar with the game, and as we recognize chess as an appropriate intervention for developing specific student abilities, I envision chess being used more and more during classroom instruction. At my last school, there was a ~9 ft X 9 ft chess board that the students loved. This board generated a lot of interest, from students and visiting parents alike! If possible, I would like to request funds to purchase one of these jumbo chess sets as well. My school, Lancaster School, is an inner-city Milwaukee Public preK-8 school. I am in my 3rd year there as a Cross-Categorical Special Ed teacher, servicing 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Students learn in all-inclusive classrooms. 92% of the students at Lancaster qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch. And 90% of the student population is African American. The students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities study in the mainstream classroom. This year, as of early September, there are nearly 50 7th graders in a class (about 20% special ed), well over 50 6th graders in a class (these numbers both keep rising), and no Teachers’ Aides. There is not enough room in the classrooms for 50+ desks, so some students currently sit in chairs at the periphery of the classroom. Despite these astounding circumstances, the teachers and administration at Lancaster are extremely devoted and dedicated: there is very little funding for after-school sports or other extracurricular programs, yet teachers willingly volunteer their time for student enrichment activities.

Reading and math performance improves in students who play chess; studies consistently show that students make greater gains in reading even compared to those who were instructed in the subject for longer, rather than participate in chess. Chess boards themselves are ideal for introducing real-life application of math concepts (e.g. fractions, percentages, area, perimeters, Cartesian coordinates). Chess also enhances instruction both by reaching the special needs population and by improving behavior and classroom management. In 1988, Joyce Brown, an assistant principal and supervisor of the school's Special Education department, and teacher Florence Mirin began studying the effect of chess on their Special Education students. "The effects have been remarkable," Brown says. "Not only have the reading and math skills of these children soared, their ability to socialize has increased substantially, too. Our studies have shown that incidents of suspension and outside altercations have decreased by at least 60% since these children became interested in chess." (“New York City Schools Chess Program” by Christine Palm - 1990).

Students will benefit from improved academic performance and a better learning environment through reduced classroom management problems. Research also shows that the earlier students begin to study using chess, the more they benefit. A study by Louise Gaudreau, which measured student performance in math over a four-year period, shows that there were statistically significant differences in the problem solving between students who began augmenting their learning using chess back in the first grade over those who began in the second grade. (Chess in Education Research Summary , compiled by Dr. Robert Ferguson)