Chess is helping students learn
Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Teachers at Palolo Elementary School are seeing remarkable changes in some of their students — all from playing chess.

“Chess has helped these kids with their academics,” said Henrietta Clemons, who coordinates VISTA, the federally funded anti-poverty program Volunteers in Service To America, for the school. She also is a key organizer of the chess club and chess teams that placed well in the recent state tournament held at Windward Community College.

Chess also is helping motivate students to get homework done on time, she said.

“If they miss two or three days of homework in a row, they’re out of the club,” Clemons said.

The chess club members — some as young as 6 — are hunkering down over their homework every night. They’re learning responsibility, sportsmanship, perseverance and determination. They’re also learning to be successful and to have fun at the same time.

“I like playing chess because it’s good for you,” said 8-year-old Donovan Luafalealo, a second-grader who now stays in at recess when he needs to make sure his homework is finished.

“You can learn plenty things,” he added. “I learned strategy.”

His mother, Alesi, sees a difference, too.

“Because he loves chess, he does his homework all the time,” she said. “He can’t play chess unless he does it.

“Chess has done a whole lot for him. He stays up at night and gets it done. Before, he’s not doing it.”

The child was one of about 15 from Palolo who entered the recent state tournament.

“It was the first time for us (in the tournament), and we did quite well,” principal Ruth Silberstein said. “In the K-3 category, we placed fourth out of 11 schools, and in the K-6 category, we placed fifth out of 13 schools.”

The interest in the game began after several chess sets were donated to the school several years ago.

“They stayed on a shelf for a whole year because we didn’t know how to play chess ourselves,” Silberstein said.

But Clemons found people willing to teach the students to play chess, including Rotary members Andrew Glatzel and Dee Bracken. Later, chess enthusiast John Imperial became strategy coach.

Now the game is so popular among Palolo students that Clemons has signed up 28 students for next year — up from about 16 this year.

“I’ve already recruited kids from second, third and fourth grade for next year,” Clemons said.

Clemons’ hope is to spread an interest in chess to the middle and high schools that Palolo Elementary feeds so her students are able to continue their interest through high school — and maybe even go after chess scholarships for college.

To that end, the school will host a chess clinic this month for students from Palolo Elementary, Jarrett Middle School and Kaimuki High School. Beginners are welcome, but the event will also teach strategy for more advanced students.

“This is one of the ways they learn responsibility,” Clemons said. “This is a game where they’ve really learned to focus. Because of this game, they’re able to concentrate better on their homework. It has really opened up their thinking.”

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