2017-05-01 / Shorts

Elementary Counselor Fosters Chess Mates

Robyn Passante

Ten years ago, elementary school counselor Kerry Wiessmann had a third-grade student who needed some extra help making friends.

“He was a gifted student but very socially awkward,” says Wiessmann, who works with students at Corl Street and Ferguson Township elementary schools. “I was trying to figure out ways to help him socialize with peers.”

Wiessmann, a longtime fan of chess, knew that the age-old board game would give that particular student and his potential opponents a great mental challenge as well as a lot of other opportunities for growth. And so Corl Street Elementary’s Chess Club was born.

“Initially I was hoping to get four or six kids out of one of the classes to be in the club,” she says. “As soon as we started it kids from other classes were wanting to join.” Wiessmann’s club had 12 students the first year. In the ensuing years, she’s had as many as 50 third- through fifth-graders eager to learn and practice the game once a week after school.

“Chess Club is actually one of the only things third-graders are allowed to do after school at Corl Street,” she says. “The intramural sports and chorus and band are all for fourth- and fifth-graders.”

Wiessmann begins each year teaching the basics with the help of her more experienced students. First-timers are paired with chess aficionados who play together in teams. The first day, they play with kings, queens, pawns and rooks. The next time, they add bishops. The third week they add knights.

“It’s really a challenge for the kids who are good as well as for the kids who are learning,” she says. Once everyone is up to speed, they being to play one on one, eventually implementing tournament rules, which includes no talking, no face-making and no knocking pieces over.

“I really believe in chess because it is a game that requires you to plan ahead, stop and think before you act, and the ethics and conduct around chess are very clearly structured,” says Wiessmann, who now leads a Chess Club at Ferguson Township Elementary as well. “The development of the brain is something I know a fair amount about and what people need when they grow up is to be able to delay gratification and plan ahead. Pathways for that can be established through the playing of games, and chess is a really good example.”

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