A grant is giving numerous K-6 students at Lenoir City Schools the chance to play chess.
ChessKid, a website that allows youth to play the game online, in June announced Lenoir City was one of six districts in the nation to receive a years worth of accounts for each student. Nearly 800 students have logged on and tried the game.
Christina Mullinax, Lenoir City High School teacher and chess coach, said the program was utilized 41 hours at Lenoir City Elementary School and 63 hours at Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School in September.
The biggest thing is Ive had teachers stop me and tell me kids are playing in class, the kids are talking about it, Mullinax said. A lot of it is just the peripheral, its in the kids mind. As soon as they were told about it, theyre clicking and getting in. The other big thing is I can see how much theyre into it. Kids are logging in as soon as they get to school. Ill be sitting at my desk at the high school at 7:30 in the morning and Ill log in and theres already five kids at the elementary school playing. I mean thats just really exciting, just seeing them really (into it). No ones telling them to do that, theyre just playing.
Mullinax, who helps the elementary and middle school programs, applied for the grant because she wanted students to have the chance to play in a safe environment and build relationships.
Its been really good because I have struggled with traditional chess this year, she said. We would have usually gone to three or four tournaments at this point. All my traditional recruiting methods, I cant do anything. One of the biggest ways wed get kids involved is wed take them to their first tournament and theyd fall in love. We cant have a tournament, between contact tracing and everything, its just impossible. Chess would be dead right now if not for this because we would just be so at a standstill to get new kids, to expose anybody to it.
The program allows students who may not speak English well to participate.
A lot of times kids come over and they dont speak English, theyre not able to do any of these things, Mullinax said. Now theyre able to play the games that all the other kids are playing and get better at it and learn and feel like theyre involved in these kinds of programs.
Students have the ability to move up in the ranks by taking lessons ranging from how to move pieces to basic tactics.
It is a challenge for these kids, Mullinax said. ... You have to be a decent level tournament player to be able to get through those levels. You have to pass each lesson. Now, of course, they can retake. If you fail, its not like youre kicked out of the program. You have to pass and you have to get each lesson correct to move on.
LCIMS sixth-graders Josh Murphy and Chase Bonnett and fourth-grader Evan Bonnett attained King level.
For Chase and his younger brother, Evan, the game was a good way to learn patience.
Its fun to play against people, learn things about chess, Evan said. ... Dont underestimate your opponent.
Patience is one lesson Kathryn Pafunda, LCIMS English as a Second Language teacher and school chess coach, hopes students pick up.
It teaches the students math skills, Pafunda said. It teaches the students logic. It teaches them to slow down and look at a bigger picture.
I think the biggest thing chess teaches kids is problem-solving and consequences, Mullinax added. So much in life is about you do something, and its not necessarily good or bad, but you have to deal with the consequence of it. When youre playing a game of chess, you make a move, good, bad or indifferent, theyre going to make a move back and you have to deal with what you just did.
Others are making their way to King. Mullinax pointed to one elementary student who attained the level.
I was super excited because I was watching him and his account went up a level and I was like, Uh oh, hes still on, hes going to do it, Mullinax said. He did it and then he immediately emailed our elementary school coach and was so excited.
Hopes are to continue the ChessKid program next year. Mullinax said she will look at fundraising options to make it something permanent for the district.
Theres a goal I have as a coach, which is, of course, having a strong team and being more competitive on the state and national level, but I think theres also the goal I have as a teacher, which is just I think chess is viable, she said. I think it teaches a lot of great skills. Even if kids never join me in a tournament, just knowing that theyve been exposed and that they know how to play, thats enough for me.
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