Life may be a game to some, but the Clark County Day Treatment Center is taking it a bit further by using chess in the classroom.
Four students took it far enough to place second in a three-state chess tournament earlier this month in northern Kentucky.
Chess has become a teaching tool within the center since Greg Hollon became principal during the summer. A chess player himself, Hollon thought the skills needed to succeed in chess are identical to those needed in life, and a skill the students in the program need.
The day treatment program is designed for at-risk students who have trouble in a regular classroom setting or who exhibit recurring problems at home or in the community. The program accepts up to 30 students for more individual attention and instruction, as well as weekly counseling sessions, according to Clark County Public Schools.
“Our students have to think before they act,” Hollon said. “That’s what chess requires you to do … think before you act. It seemed like a natural fit.”
Hollon said he started with the summer session, and continued once the regular session began in August.
“In the beginning, we would officially play twice a week for 45 minutes,” he said. “What happened (was) the kids enjoyed it so much when they finished their work, they would start playing. It turned into every spare moment they’re playing chess.”
Many of the students were wary when they learned of the new chess requirements.
“At first, it was hard,” eighth-grader Patrick Lee said. “When I learned how, I got better and helped others learn to play.”
“I didn’t think I’d like it at all,” junior Palmer Rhea said.
The two, along with sophomore Austin Buckland and freshman Travis Collins, traveled to northern Kentucky with Hollon earlier this month to compete against more than 30 other teams from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky of sixth-graders to high school seniors. The Day Treatment crew placed in second in the unrated division, Hollon said, where most of the teams competed.
Each player played five matches, Hollon said, and earned one point for a win and a half-point for each king-to-king stalemate, he said. At the end of the day, the Clark students’ points were worth second place.
In between rounds, the team played chess on Hollon’s iPad, where the computer plays harder than many of their opponents, he said. That additional practice may have helped spot moves their opponents could make, but didn’t, he said.
“They didn’t have stagefright and they performed well,” Hollon said. “I told people at the district I had a good feeling about it. I knew the level of our kids. You didn’t know the level of the others.”
The tournament organizers noticed as well, he said. Following the event, Hollon received an e-mail from the tournament coordinator praising the kids and the sportsmanship they showed. While there was not a sportsmanship award, the Day Treatment kids won the unofficial one, Hollon said.
The effects are spreading beyond the classroom and tournaments. Some students have been teaching their parents, he said. Others said they have been playing chess online rather than video games.
“They walk a little taller,” Hollon said. “There’s a confidence, even those that didn’t go to the tournament, they demonstrate by having a skill they’re good at. It’s really important to their self esteem and it’s given them a real enjoyment to come to school.”
Contact Fred Petke at email@example.com.