By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Are you ready for shachmat?
Students at the Hebrew Language Academy will get a chance to learn how to play chess this fall as Chess NYC, New York's largest chess community, is set to start a program there later this month. It’s part of a slow, but growing trend to get chess into the classrooms.
"We've been growing pretty aggressively all over the city," said Michael Propper, one of the directors of Chess NYC. "We worked with one Hebrew academy already up in Harlem and it was a pretty big success so when the Hebrew Language Academy's principal contacted us we thought it was a great idea to bring our program there as well."
Through programs like Chess NYC and Chess-in-the-Schools, the game is gaining traction in New York City schools, especially in Brooklyn, where it is seen as a way to teach kids problem solving and critical thinking skills at an early age.
“The patience that it teaches, the calculations and understanding the consequences of the moves you just made, those strategies carry over to other fields,” Propper said. “It's a very exciting game and it contributes toward reasoning skills. It's the only game that's scientifically proven to enhance cognitive skills.”
The Hebrew Language Academy is located in Midwood and has roughly 315 kids from kindergarten to fifth grade. The majority of the students have at least one foreign-born parent and speak languages at home other than English. This gives the kids a chance to socialize and the fact that they are so young doesn’t matter much.
“If you have that instinctive ability to memorize you can do scary stuff at a young age,” Propper said. “We have one little girl where she remembers moves and remembers a play, but she’s only four and can't even read yet. When she can start to read she's going to be a monster chess player. We have kids as young as five years old that are unbelievably good.”
It’s also a great way to expose young kids, especially those that aren’t into sports, to healthy competitive aspects that come from playing games.
“With chess, for the kids with the aptitude for it its a very exciting game,” Propper said. “They grasp it and get into a competitive element. For kids that aren’t athletic or into sports, it’s a great way for them to be competitive and provides them with a cool social environment where they can compete at a level that they normally wouldn’t be exposed to.”
Propper says that anywhere from four to five schools contact Chess NYC each week in an attempt to get them to start programs at their school, but said that they can’t do that with every school that inquires. Part of the reason they decided to begin a program at the Hebrew Language Academy was due to their success with a Hebrew academy in Harlem and also because the school’s principal was so enthusiastic about starting one.
"Principal (Laura) Silver wants these kids to get every opportunity possible," Propper explained. "She was pretty aggressive in bringing us in. They want lot of exposure to different things and we think that is very cool."
Chess NYC started back in 2008 and since that time has grown to "50 times our original size," according to Propper. The programs are in classrooms all over the city including both private and public schools. The program is even taught in juvenile detention centers as a way to help troubled kids. Chess NYC runs tournaments every weekend in different locations around the city. Check out http://chessnyc.com/ for more information.