Archive | June, 2015

Sunrise Mayor Champions Chess Program

22 Jun

The following blog is penned from Mayor Mike Ryan of Sunrise, Florida. Mayor Ryan is a dedicated public servant, a champion for afterschool programming, and a terrific mayor for children and families in Broward County:

When I was a PTA president, a motivated 5th grade teacher and I started an after school chess club in an elementary school.  From that experience, I took away an immediate understanding of the power of chess to unleash talented minds, particularly for those students where the expectations for excellence were sadly based upon preconceived notions of what it takes to play chess, vis-à-vis their academic performance measured by traditional testing.  The other take-away from that experience was that we could never reach all the students we needed to because after school chess clubs in Florida have three major problems.

First, and foremost, clubs held after the school day are often exclusionary.  Only those students with support structure resources independent of the school system are even able to participate.  Foregoing bus rides and arranged transportation is clearly not an option for far too many students.

Second, many after school chess clubs structured their “enrollment” based upon those preconceived notions that chess is best suited for those who have demonstrated laudable academic performance through testing and classroom performance.  Anecdotally, in my experience, we saw the most interesting gains amongst those who had not been performing well.  Nonetheless, limiting the after school club to gifted or certain segments of the student population denied access to those who may benefit the most from the positive impacts of chess and the afterschool experience.

Third, for the vast majority of after school chess clubs, the club was always one person away from extinction.  When the adviser had a conflict or moved on, or the principal had different priorities, few would step forward to take over in part due to the mystique of chess.

After being elected Mayor, I donated twenty chess sets to each of the eleven public schools in Sunrise to encourage them to initiate a chess club.  Many encountered the very challenges I faced back in my PTA days.

From that, I set out to develop a scholastic chess culture which extended beyond after school clubs and beyond the four corners of the “schoolhouse.”  With the astounding financial assistance of America’s Foundation for Chess and our Police Department, and enthusiastic support from three schools, we launched in Sunrise a pilot program to introduce chess in the classroom curriculum for every second and third grader.  The pilot program was so successful that, within months, the School Board of Broward County, which is the sixth largest in the United States, expanded the curriculum-based “First Move” program to all elementary schools.  As a result, this past academic year, an estimated 30,000 second and third graders learned chess in the classroom; the multiplier effect extended to siblings, younger and older, and family members.

Then, working with the National Scholastic Chess Foundation, we developed an innovative model to educate community mentors on how to teach and support scholastic chess.  We wanted to expand chess beyond second and third graders and tackle the problem that the afterschool clubs were one person away from extinction by developing chess advisors throughout the community.  Their workshop program, “Demystifying Chess” is now approaching 200 trained teachers, principals, parents, police officers, elected officials, park and rec staff, parents, afterschool providers, Broward CSC providers, summer camp providers and mentors.  The goal was not to develop student tournament or trophy winners, but to developed critical thinking skills, academic gains and new social skills.  Many teachers are now incorporating chess into the classroom lessons.  From this experience, we also developed a “template” for cities to start their own programs, which has even led to the mayors in Broward County sponsoring monthly county-wide fun chess events.

Paradoxically, through this process of expanding chess outside the “schoolhouse”, the afterschool clubs have become stronger, more sustainable and are in greater demand.  Now, one of our next steps is to make sure every child has the opportunity to participate in afterschool chess clubs.

That’s why the Florida Afterschool Network’s mission of overcoming the barriers for students and families to achieve the most from the educational experience through robust afterschool programs, which meld the power of socialization with program opportunities meant to diversify the experiences for our students, is so crucial.  Of course, my message is about chess, but we know this translates to the many other opportunities which paint the colorful tapestry of student achievement through a meaningful afterschool experience.