Knight Train On Track
Brooklyn’s got a Castle. Norfolk’s got the Knight Train on track
By Lisa Suhay
Brooklyn may have a Castle, as demonstrated in the new film Brooklyn Castle about how chess changes the lives of at-risk youth, but Norfolk’s got a turret where the Knight Train stops and we’re building on that. Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence
We are taking all the elements of our community, from senior citizens with time on their hands and chess on the brain, to at-risk youth in need of mentoring and critical thinking skills minds and coupling them with the generosity of Norfolk Southern Railway and the Lionel Collector’s Club of America to build our castle and then lay track from it to the others already there.
NICE Chess began four years ago I got a call from a local school principal asking me if I would “fill-in” for her English teacher that year at a private school that turned out not to be the kind of school where privileged kids went for polish, but where those inspected, rejected, and ejected from our public schools washed up, and desperate parents paid to try and get them to eek-out a diploma.
I am not a trained teacher. I am the mom of four chess-playing boys ages 8, 12, 17 and 18 who writes children’s books. But I needed the money so I took the gig and from that embattled classroom a chess program was born. I never set out to create a program, but anywhere I have ever gone with a few boards and sets the session ended with kids clinging to me, hugging me around the waist and saying, “You’re coming back right?”
It began in the classroom where each day I battled the students’ apathy which was brought on by self-loathing, neglect by previous teachers and fear of failure. I taught four courses: 12th Grade British Literature; 9th grade composition; journalism and creative writing.
Having lived aboard a sailboat at one time provided two good teaching mantras: “Sometimes you have to go left to go right” and “You cannot control the wind, only adjust your sails.”
In I sailed with lesson plans on Beowulf, Chaucer, creative writing prompts galore. I ran straight into the rocky classroom where students lights had been burned out by: ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, lack of self-esteem, rampant hormones and Senioritis.
It was time to go left to set things right. Out came my iPod filled with everything from Greg Patillo on Beatbox flute, Shakespearean sonnets read by a New York convict in a “Sensitivity through poetry” program to the Lord’s Prayer read in Olde English.
The breakthrough tool, however, was the game of chess.
…Results were immediate and dramatic. My discipline problems pretty much evaporated. Students with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia were transformed into chess-a-holics. Those who previously were labeled by themselves and others as least likely to succeed were suddenly winners.
Since we had nearly 40 players we formed the school’s first chess club. I applied to the U.S. Chess Trust in Walkill, NY and the Virginia Scholastic Chess Association in Richmond for aid in the form of more chess boards. They came through.
Although, in the long run, our greatest supporter has been GM Susan Polgar who began by sending us four clocks and has continued to support us via sets and even flying here at her own expense for a three-day-long chess competition and playing her first blind-folded match in two decades. By simply re-Tweeting our requests she has generated support from www.Chess4Less and assisted with our projects.
Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar