Even for beginners, chess is more than just a game. It requires critical thinking, composure, and sportsmanship. Studies show that chess strengthens core academic skills.1
”Chess teaches them to slow down and think before they do something,” says Alexis Viele, third grade teacher. “They consider the consequences before taking action, and have to deal with any mistakes that they make. These are the same approaches to problem solving that we model in our classrooms and across our school culture.”
Now in its second year, Harlem Academy’s chess program has grown to serve more than 80 students. All lower school students play for a minimum of 90 minutes each week, and a middle school elective allows students to play for two hours each week.
Classes are led by Majur Juac, a national chess master and a coach for Chess NYC. Coach Majur learned chess on his own in Sudan and Kenya. When he moved to the U.S., he started competing and then coaching other young people. He inspires students with his soft spoken teaching style, guiding them from the basics into the strategic complexities of the game.
“As a coach, sometimes I offer suggestions,” says Coach Majur. “I am a national master and will point and say, ‘This is the move you should make.’ But sometimes they say, ‘Why not this move?’ And their move is one I have not thought of, and it is better. That is exciting for me.”
As students develop their skills, they are invited to compete at weekend tournaments, first in intramural events at Harlem Academy and then in city-wide youth competitions.
“Chess improves my focus,” says eighth grader Miles. “Also my problem solving and time management.” The school program has given him an opportunity to compete with peers and take his game to the next level. This year he has already won a Harlem Academy tournament, and he placed fifth in a city-wide meet. He aspires one day to defeat his teacher, Coach Majur.
1. Bart, William M. "On the effect of chess training on scholastic achievement" Frontiers in Psychology, August 2014.