By Marian Edmonds
Price Middle School
In just a couple of years, students from Luther J. Price Middle School have become a force in the Georgia and national chess community.
Chess at Price has helped our students achieve and succeed like they rarely have before. While so many of our Price students struggle to read, write and perform academic work on grade level, these same children dominate on the chess board, and they are consistently finishing on or near the top at local, state and even national chess tournaments.
I am the teacher who oversees this program, and I am proud to say that one of the best things about Price Chess is that instruction is almost entirely student directed. I provide them with the basics – a safe place to play and a very clear set of ground rules and expectations for participating. They do the rest.
Just about all of my students started playing chess only when they came to Price. The game has taught them so much more than how to win.
It is my students’ love of the game and their fierce competitive desire to conquer and win that fuels their study of chess. Students read, watch videos, frequently visit chess websites and constantly hone and perfect their openings and strategies. They independently research and find new ways to dominate on the chess board.
Students at Price play chess with a ferocious intensity. They have learned to stay in the match no matter how many pieces they may lose. If their planned strategy is undercut or stymied, their tenacity and desire to fight to the very end of the match is only reinforced.
My students are strong, confident chess players, and they feel valued and admired as a result. They work tirelessly to dominate their opponents, exposing every weakness and pouncing when the opportunity presents itself. Price students rely on their innate instincts, their grit and their fearlessness. They aren’t afraid to take risks in chess or to sacrifice power pieces in their quest for a checkmate.
At Price, your chess game is your bravado. Students trash talk about their opening moves and how they use their pieces to undercut and weaken their opponents. Chess is complicated and abstract, and students at Price relish the opportunity to show off their genius on the chess board. Price students have embraced chess as a way to prove they are tough, they are resilient, and they are smart.
Through chess, Price students are showing they are strong at problem-solving, abstract thinking and analyzing and synthesizing complex scenarios.
They are learning to focus and pay attention to detail. This seems to be reflected in their test scores, where chess students are showing big gains and outperforming the Price average.
My students’ chess games tend to be a reflection of their individual personalities. They are fearless and tenacious, and it is through chess that Price students get the opportunity to showcase their brilliance.
My students are sharpening their communication skills. They are learning to channel their aggression, regulate their emotions, and deal with frustration. They say playing chess makes them feel happy and calm.
They are learning to win gracefully, lose with humility, and the importance of patience and thinking before they act. Many students say it makes them feel safe.
Through chess, Price students learn to think about the outcome of their every move. In trying to anticipate their opponents’ next move, students are learning to look at the world from other perspectives.
Price chess connects students to a world beyond their homes and neighborhoods. Chess offers students the chance to connect and develop relationships with students from across the region and the state.
Through chess, my students seize the opportunity to sit down at a chess board and match wits with people from many different backgrounds and experiences.
Regular visitors to our chess classroom include area college students, Atlanta firefighters and public safety officers, and board members from the Georgia Chess Association. My students love new challenges and are happy to play chess with all comers.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHINE
Price chess students shine at chess tournaments, and not just because they enjoy success.
Our students practice from the moment we arrive at the tournament. And the Price practice table is always among the most popular.
We have students from other schools seek us out to spend the tournament at the Price table playing practice rounds and socializing with our students. It is so much fun to hear our students talking strategies and openings with their new friends. These connections transcend geographic and economic boundaries. Our students are judged for the quality of their chess play.
The students don’t even notice they hail from different circumstances. They see each other as chess players, and that’s all that matters.
We talk in class about how losing is the way to get better, assuming you learn from your losses. I encourage students to apply what they learned to their next match.
In class, students routinely analyze their games and review where a strategy or move could be improved for next time. One of the most exciting things at a tournament is seeing students review the matches they lost and analyze what went wrong.
I frequently ask my students to reflect on how chess is like life. Unfortunately, neither one is ever perfect. Recently, Price students shared with Slater Elementary students about the impact chess has had on their lives and how it helps them focus, stay under control and think about the consequences of their actions. One 8th grader talked about the opportunities chess has given him, referencing trips to tournaments and other activities. The 3rd graders sat in absolute silence, mesmerized by the chess players. One 8th graders told me he felt like a “chess god,” special and proud. I urged him to carry that feeling in his heart and to think about it often.
The next morning, his teacher had to put that same student out of her classroom because he disrupted instruction. Unfortunately, we have seen that our students toggle between their identities as chess aficionados and middle school students still trying to navigate the complex social structures of our school and our communities. That is why the game is not done.
That is why we always fight to the end, no matter the circumstances.
Price chess has shown again and again that it can achieve “check”. But “checkmate” will always be a work in progress.