By Dominique Fong, The Oregonian
BEAVERTON — The third grader with a faux mohawk eyed his white knight.
His opponent nudged a black bishop to a square diagonal of the knight, now positioned for enemy capture.
Gerardo Flores Castro, 9, pounced on the board and rescued the knight with a move only the horse-head toy can do in chess, a nifty L-shape dodge.
On a Thursday afternoon that other kids and teens normally reserve for naps, video games or television, about 70 students joined an after-school chess program at William Walker elementary school.
Michael Humphreys, an ESL and art teacher, twice a week coaches the kids on a game about a king, a queen, and an army of pawns. A game of calculated conquer that can stump even the world’s brightest.
Humphreys works with Chess for Success, a nonprofit that uses the game to teach problem-solving skills to students across Oregon and serves more than 3,400 youth, most from low-income families. The organization pays for teacher stipends, donates library books about chess, loans chessboards to students and gives free T-shirts to the kids.
“I learned how to help kids be better thinkers,” Humphreys said. The kids who get better “become quieter, more thoughtful. They think analytically.”
A few young minds grasp the game quickly during the hour and a half of playtime in the school cafeteria. They’re the ones who, unlike others who bounce their pieces around the squares, lean their necks over their chessboards and take their time. No rush.
They learn to protect the weak king, which can only move one square each turn. They use the queen’s omni-directional power to bully their opponent’s knights and pawns into traps.
Scholars and a federal agency have recently explored the merits of chess in education and developmental behavior. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention asked Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, a Portland policy research organization, to use Chess for Success as a case study.
Research from 2006 showed that more students in the CFS program met or exceeded reading and math benchmarks for their grade than the average statewide. For example, 93 percent of CFS students scored at or above the math standard, compared to 88 percent of students across Oregon.