Maple Street's Community School chess program is teaching students skills

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Rockville - posted Fri., Apr. 5, 2013
Anthony, 5, is apparently thrilled at his opponent's next move, as he plays chess at the Community School program at Maple Street School. Photos by Steve Smith.
Anthony, 5, is apparently thrilled at his opponent's next move, as he plays chess at the Community School program at Maple Street School. Photos by Steve Smith.

Charles Wright has taught chess for years, including a still-currently-running 12-year stint at the Vernon Senior Center, to which people of all ages are openly invited. Wright said he taught people from ages 5 to 75 there, and also taught chess at the King's School in Bolton. “There's always been kids involved,” he said.

Wright is now teaching chess to students at the Community School program at Maple Street School. Classes are Tuesday afternoons from 3:30 to 4:45, and he regularly sees three to five students.

He said that when he started the classes (or when a new student starts) he asks if they've played before. “If they say 'no,' then we just start with the basics – how to put the board down on the table,” he said. “White square on the right hand side. That way the queens will go on their color. Then we start with naming the pieces and how they move. Once the kids know how they move – really how they move – the strategy and tactics start to come in.”

He teaches movement and strategy by setting up situations or “puzzles” and asking the students to provide a solution, such as how a bishop can capture a certain rook in three moves or less. “It's a lot of repetition,” he said, adding that chess teaches other skills as well. “They have to think, they have to calculate before they move. They have to plan. It doesn't matter how big or small they are. It's all in your brain. You have to be able to sit down and think. It also teaches them discipline, fair play, and definitely helps in math, because you have to figure out things – what works and what doesn't work.”

Wright said it can take a while for some students, but the ones in his class who started last October have come a long way. “They didn't know anything about it, but they've picked it up really well,” he said.

Anthony, 5, a kindergarten student, said he likes playing chess after first picking up a piece last fall. “I like that the queen can move to any space, but the king can only move one space anywhere,” he said.

Jonathan, 10, also a novice until this school year, said Wright can be a tough-but-fair teacher. “He's a good chess teacher,” Jonathan said. “He makes us focus. When I first came here, it was hard to do all of this, because I didn't know. He taught me how the pieces can go... I think that really inspired me to come to chess.”

“I think it's great,” said Sarah Sweetman, Maple Street's family associate and coordinator of the Community School. “I'm actually really surprised by how many kids know how to play and enjoy it.”

She said Wright has a way with the students. “He has a stern sense of humor that I love, and that the kids really respond to,” Sweetman said.

Wright said the best part of teaching chess is seeing the kids come in excited to play and learn. “They're great,” he said. “They're anxious to play every week. I sometimes have them teach other people or other kids when they come here. That way I know they're learning.”

For more information, visit the Maple Street School page at www.vernonpublicschools.org.


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