ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) — Preston Hill, 14, leans over the cafeteria table, his energy focused on the board in front of him.
Dressed in camouflage pants and a green T-shirt, the uniform of the Anderson Alternative School, the dirty blond, crew-cut-headed boy studies the pieces in front of him, planning his next move. With quick and sure movements, he picks up the queen, moves her into position and hits the clock. It’s checkmate. He’s won again.
This is not something you would expect from a kid who was expelled from Wren High School in Piedmont for fighting.
Hill is part of the Anderson Alternative School’s Chess Club. The school provides a learning environment for students referred there either by the county’s five school districts or the court system. Known for its military-style boot camp program, the school focuses on turning around students who have been discipline problems. Chess, said Principal Randolph Dillingham, is a part of that now.
“Chess is about thinking about what you’re doing,” he said. “A lot of these kids have problems with impulse control. This has taught them how to stop and think before they act, to think about the consequences of what they are doing.”
The club, now in its second year, is a joint effort between the school, the Sertoma Club of Anderson and volunteers. Here in the cafeteria, during hour-long Friday afternoon sessions, some 40 students learn the fundamentals of chess and how to apply it to their lives.
It’s been a success, Dillingham said. So successful, in fact, the school is preparing for its first tournament. On April 17, students from the Alternative School will face students in chess clubs from Westside and T.L. Hanna high schools.
Through playing against one another and taking tests on chess, students progress up the ranks, said Jeff Gilreath, a Duke Energy engineer and volunteer with the club.
Some students take hours to move up the ranks, some take months.
“We’ve had kids here who have had major behavior problems,” said Kristy Tarallo, a school social worker and club organizer. “And they’ve changed. They’ve changed their behavior and they’ve learned how to discipline themselves.”
That discipline comes from the game, Gilreath said.
“In this game, you’ve got to always be planning and thinking about your next move,” he said. “We teach them not only to see the consequences of what they do, but to understand why their opponent moved the way they moved.”
The students have taken the game to heart, as much as the skills they are learning, the adults said.
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