Q & A: Technology Teacher Talks Chess Program at PS 56
June 7, 2013 at 10:14 AM
By Norwood News
Arafath Kazi, the technology teacher and chess coach for PS 56’s medal-winning chess team — the Norwood Knights — reflects on the team’s success at the 2013 Chess-in-the-Schools Bronx High School of Science Masterminds Tournament and the school’s growing chess program.
NN: When did the program start?
AK: This program started about five years ago as an after-school chess club. Students also had the option to join other extracurricular activities that were available to them, like arts and crafts, debate, cooking, etc. The clubs were available for about one third of the school year—one hour once a week. After learning about the Chess-in-the-Schools (CIS) nonprofit educational organization a few years ago, our first grade teacher, Maureen Longo attended a teacher workshop to represent our school for participation. For our participation, the school received chess supplies from the CIS program and was then aware that tournaments (hosted by the CIS program) were held around the city. This was our third year engaging our chess club students to participate in the tournaments. Thanks to our supportive principal, Priscilla Sheeran, our chess club has now become a chess program, and we are able to serve more students.
NN: What is your personal background in chess?
AK: I have known how to play chess since I was a student in middle school. It has been one of those games that I never seemed to grow out of. The more I played the more passionate about it I became. When I was a student, I somehow missed the opportunity to join a chess team or participate in CIS tournaments. However, I loved the game so much, that whenever I had the chance, I continued playing pick-up games with my peers throughout high school and college. I also enjoyed teaching chess to family members and friends who were interested in learning. Throughout the years, I developed a great interest in the game and always practiced to improve my knowledge by reading about it, playing online on the computer, playing pick-up games in person, as well as watching other people play. I enjoyed playing chess so much that it became my favorite pastime and now is a passion to teach.
NN: What does it take to be on the chess team?
AK: Most of the students who join the program are between the ages of 8 and 10, and have very little or no knowledge of the game. An important requirement for students who want to join the club in our school is showing good effort in classwork and maintaining an excellent behavior record. So, the students that join are really enthusiastic about learning and that makes a big difference. My students have fun learning and playing the game, and I am glad to lead them to their potential. It has been a wonderful experience for me to pass on the love of learning through chess.
NN: Is popularity of the game growing within the school?
AK: The popularity of the game within our school has been at its peak ever since we started participating in the CIS tournaments. More and more students are applying to this club every year, and recently, it has expanded within our school. It has increased from two rounds of 12 students in each session to four rounds. It started as a chess club that served about 24 students a year to a full-on chess program that selects about 50 students from 330 students who apply from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.
NN: How is chess relevant to student success?
AK: When I was given the opportunity to create a club for the students in PS 56, I proposed a chess club. My mission was to create an awareness of this great game for the students in our school, raise its popularity, as well as help students become critical thinkers, problem solvers, and independent thinkers. I take great pride in teaching kids how to play chess, because I strongly believe it will have a positive influence on their future.