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Learning life skills on a chess board
A room full of students and staff members playing chess
Every Thursday at 2 p.m. something extraordinary happens at Terry Taylor Elementary School: the Chess Club meets. Eager students from the Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES 8:1:2 and 6:1:2 classes, about 15-18 first-graders through fifth-graders, gather in a room set with a dozen chess boards, find partners, sit down and begin to play chess. Once started, you can hear a pin drop in this large room filled with concentration.

“It can be surprising to see how kids respond,” said Speech-Language Pathologist Lisa Ruestow. “They actually like the rules, the strategies, the thinking ahead and figuring out options. Chess helps them understand that actions have consequences and that they have to be responsible for their decisions. Playing the game is helping them with social interactions and regulating their emotions in other life situations, too.”

The only special Club rules are that everyone must be respectful and compliment their opponent’s play at least once before the end of the game. Students learn how to cope with failure along with success: In the game of chess, there is no losing – just learning.

“Students get a chance to meet and play with kids of different ages from other classes who they might not normally run into,” said Ruestow. “Everyone is equal in Chess Club. Emilio is a second-grader who is serious and already an extremely good player. Passionate likes teaching new members or even adults who don’t know how to play. She is very patient. One of our newer members, Nate, is still most comfortable observing and reading a book about chess. He’s coming to it in his own time.”

The Chess Club is only a few months old, but has been very popular with students, who look forward to participating. Ruestow credits support from the teachers and staff members for making the program a success. “It is a very collaborative and cooperative activity – for adults and students,” she said. “We all have to play well together.”