Jorge Najera, a sixth-grader at Queens Intermediate, makes his move during an after-school Chess Club match; Sixth-grader Emily Lopez (below) is one of dozens of Queens students taking advantage of the chance to learn and play chess.
By JOCELYN NICHOLS
Despite living in the age of technology, with an abundance of video games and smart phones, many Pasadena ISD students have fallen
in love with one of the oldest board games known to man -- chess.
Chess matches are breaking out all over the district, thanks to an initiative to provide after-school chess programs and a supporting
grant from 21st Century Case. Just as important are the teachers who volunteer their time to sponsor and coach chess clubs at schools like Pasadena High, where chess fever has even spread to lunch time.
"We are always trying to find ways to connect with the students
and get them involved," said Pasadena High Principal Joe Saavedra. "Chess has given them a positive way to connect to the school, and
at the same time is teaching students problem-solving skills."
"It's really fascinating to see students you never thought would play chess playing well," said John Tran, a Pasadena High psychology
and sociology teacher who sponsors the Chess Club at Pasadena High.
"The stigma of chess being nerdy," Tran said, "is gone."
The stimulus for chess comes from a district-wide chess initiative,
for grades five through 12, that began this fall.
"Some schools run their program through their 21st Century grant and some are self-funding," said Michelle Reynolds, Pasadena ISD instructional specialist for secondary advanced academics. "All are having a wonderful and successful time."
At some campuses, students come before school, as early as 7 a.m. Some stay as late as an hour and a half after school, all to push chess pieces around a square piece of cardboard.
Most lunch-time chess matches at Pasadena High are played standing up.
"We don't have enough chairs," Tran said. "Plus, when you stand you can see the board a little bit better. In the afternoon, we usually have chairs."
Whether standing or sitting, students seemed thrilled at the chance to play.
"It's been awesome, said Aislinn Clinch, a math teacher at Queens Intermediate who helps with the program. "Students have really got into it and it's begun to grow. These students would rather stay at school and play chess even when they could be doing anything else."
Chess challenges students to think critically and use good judgment. Studies show that students who play chess make higher scores on standardized tests than those who don't.
The game attracts students with a range of aptitude. "ESL (English as a Second Language) students are some of the best players," Clinch said.
"I didn't know anything about the game when I first started playing," said Josue Rivas, a seventh-grade ELS student at Queens. "Now I'm pretty good."
Many chess-playing students have expressed heartfelt gratitude for getting the chance to learn and play the game. Some have said they would have never known about the game if not for the district's after-school program.
Both Pasadena High and Queens have thriving chess clubs with at least 60 students participating at each campus. Beverly Hills Intermediate is attracting nearly three dozen students for each of its Chess Club meetings.
Although the program is new, sponsors are hoping to form chess teams with competitive players. A district tournament at the end of the school year is another possibility.
"I like playing chess because it's kind of like life," says Arlen Suarez, a Queens eighth-grader and a Duke Talent Identification Program scholar. "You have to think about the outcome of your choices before you make them
Plus, she said, "I want to beat my dad and my cousin the next time we play."
Queens sixth-grader Jose Cabrera studies chess strategy with the help of a computer program and a class Promethian Board.
Pasadena High chess sponsor John Tran (left) grabs some lunch while discussing chess strategy with sophomore Mateo Perez (center) and freshman Manuel Sanabria.
Pasadena senior Albert Rodriquez (left) plays chess in the cafeteria; Queens Chess Club buddies (front) Victor Martinez,
Julio Gonzalez, Isaac Quintero, Jorge Najera and Stephan Williamson; (middle) Assistant Coach Elaine Morua, Matthew Wyman, Matthew Alvarez and Blas Osorio; (back) Micah Munoz, Emily Lopez, Natalia Gonzalez, Cassandra Gonzalez, Amanda Rosas, Melody Bryant and Coach Aislinn Clinch.