piece of mind

Garry Kasparov asks chess students to explain their work


As chess champion Garry Kasparov finished up his visit to the chess club at Harlem Success Academy I this morning, he posed a question for the three dozen students taking a break from their matches: How does chess help you in school?

At first, the students struggled to answer Kasparov’s question with the kind of specifics he wanted. One boy said it helped, but couldn’t explain how exactly. Another said it helped him strategize, but came up short when pressed for more. Two girls said that chess helped them with complicated math problems and one boy said it helped him concentrate.

Finally, a young girl’s answer seemed to satisfy the grandmaster.

“Chess helps me with writing because when you’re writing an essay you have to reread your work just like you have to reread your notations,” said Hawa Diallo, a fourth grader at the school, referring to the scoresheets kept during games.

“Brilliant,” Kasparov said.

It’s a question that Kasparov said is at the core of one of his life’s goals since he retired in 2005 after spending nearly 19 years as the game’s top-ranked player. Through his foundation, Kasparov has set out to grow chess by exposing it to younger generations and he said that one way to do that is to prove that developing chess curriculum in schools has long-term educational impacts for children.

“It boosts their confidence and this is very important, especially in the deprived neighborhoods,” Kasparov said. “They have to realize that they can succeed in the field of intellect, they can beat other kids from private schools by doing intellectual things.”

Kasparov said the game is growing, but “what is important is that you have more centralized efforts to make sure that these benefits will be maximized.”

In New York City, high-performing schools such as Bronx Science, Edward R. Murrow, Stuyvesant and Hunter regularly are known for their strong chess programs. But many chess clubs and classes are offered in lower-performing schools through support from outside community partners. The largest of these is the nonprofit Chess-In-The-Schools, which teaches chess to 13,000 students in 51 Title I schools as part of their academic school day.

Perhaps the city’s most famous underdog chess team is I.S. 318, a low-income school that Paul Tough wrote about in his best-selling book about character education and was the subject of an award-winning documentary.

At the Success Academy schools, the city’s largest charter school network, chess is not an everyday class but it is central part of its programming. Students are required to learn chess from one of the network’s 10 chess teachers who are nationally ranked by the U.S. Chess Federation. Fritz Gaspard, the staff’s top-ranked player, is considered an expert with a rating over 2100.

Several of the schools also have chess teams that compete in national tournament and against one another in “cross school tournaments.”

But Sean O’Hanlon, the chess program’s director, said he tried not to put too much emphasis on the competitive aspect.

“What you really try to do, even more than win, is get them thinking,” he said.


Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.