Riviera Beach City Councilman Shelby Lowe does, and he’s hoping to ignite a chess youth movement in his city, a movement that starts today.
“Chess would help kids to think strategically and to be proactive in their approach to life and for making decisions,” Lowe said. “And it could also help kids in their relationship with adults. We need to build those kind of relationships with kids.”
Lowe learned to play the ancient board game as an adult when he was an avionics technician aboard a Navy aircraft carrier during a Mediterranean cruise.
“We were 12 hours on, and 12 hours off,” he said. “Chess became the way to pass the time.”
Before Lowe served on the Riviera Beach council, he was a substitute math teacher at Jupiter High School. And recently, one of the other teachers at that school told him of meeting a representative from the U.S. Chess Federation at a teacher’s convention.
The U.S. Chess Federation promotes chess education in schools, training teachers and partnering with schools to run after-school programs. More than 6,000 Miami-Dade school children are learning chess this year with the help of the federation and its affiliates.
Many schools in Palm Beach County have chess clubs too, and their students compete in weekend tournaments. Elbridge Gale Elementary School, a public school in Wellington, had three divisional winners last year in the regional Florida Scholastic Chess League tournament.
Lowe wanted to start something in Riviera Beach, which led to him getting in touch with Robert McLellan, the marketing director for the U.S. Chess Federation, who is also the producer of the documentary Brooklyn Castle, which shows the remarkable impact chess has had on one middle school in New York City.
The movie tells the story of Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, which became the first middle school to win the national high school chess championship.
With a modest budget and the help of a part-time chess tutor, the Brooklyn middle school started a chess club in 1999. In a matter of a few years, it became the best middle school team in the country, and a 95-member club that’s the pride of the school.
This is a school where 70 percent of the students come from families living below the poverty line. Today, a graduate of that school and its chess team is poised to become the first African-American girl to reach the exalted chess ranking of “master.” The girl, now 17, has received a full scholarship to Stanford University.
“The beauty about chess is that it works for everybody, whether you’re a first-grader in some tony private school or an inmate in a prison,” McLellan said.
“It teaches you levels of critical thinking, of planning ahead and being personally responsible for your actions,” he said. “When you’re at the chess board, there’s nobody else to blame.”
Chess also weans kids from short-attention-span pursuits.
“The ability to focus for a long period of time is important,” McLellan said. “Most kids are so distracted that the problem they have with tests isn’t the material on them, but staying focused long enough to get through them.”
So tonight at 7 p.m., McLellan will screen the Brooklyn Castle documentary at Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach, and Saturday the U.S. Chess Federation will hold a workshop at the high school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to train adults in how to teach the game and use it to mentor kids.
School teachers who attend can earn in-service credits.
The events on both days are free and open to all, including those who want to start chess programs outside of Riviera Beach.
Lowe’s hoping that this weekend’s chess push will lead to chess clubs in all levels of schools in his city, as well as the city library and other service organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club.
“I want to cultivate more thinking among kids,” he said.
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