Monday, February 18, 2013

Brooklyn Castle Checkmates Education

Intermediate School 318 (I.S. 318) is a junior high school in Brooklyn, New York, that has an amazing story to tell. Despite consisting of a student population that is below the poverty line, the school has won 30 national chess tournaments, more than any other junior high school in the nation.

Their story started several years ago when a small group of children started bringing in their chess boards after school to play. The late principal Fortunato Rubino decided it would be a great experience for the students to travel to a different state and attend a chess tournament. They surprised everyone. They won.

They continued to win for more than a decade. And they continue to win today. Last year, the junior high school became the first to win the High School National Champions and the win underscores what then 12-year-old student Alexis said about the game.

"Chess doesn't matter how how old you are, how young you are, or where you come from," he said. "It only matters how much work you put into and how many hours you study it."

But mastering the game isn't the end of their dreams. Many of the students look to chess as an opportunity to advance, earn scholarships, and have a better quality of life then their parents.

For most of the 85 students who are part of the I.S. 318 chess team, many of their dreams are within reach. One of them, Justus Williams, recently became the youngest ever African-American to become a "National Master." But even for the students at I.S. 318 who aren't on the chess team, the successes of their peers inspire them to study harder, work harder, and reach for their dreams.

Chess isn't the only after-school programs afforded to the students of I.S. 318. The school has built several such programs that engage kids after school, ranging from community service to music. They also have a successful baseball team.

The movie itself is harrowing because it chronicles the challenge that the school faced as New York, like many states and school districts across the nation, cut budgets that impact extracurricular programs, including chess. The school and students had to raise money to keep the program open and the dreams of many students alive.

The importance of after-school programs anywhere and everywhere.

As the film producers point out, organized after-school programs can make a tremendous difference in the opportunities for children. On the film's website, they cite several studies that reveal children who do not participate in after-school programs are three times more likely to engage in at-risk activities, twice as likely to skip school, and more likely to participate in criminal activities.

Even more important, after-school programs do more than reduce risky behavior. Students engaged in formal school programs (like chess or music or sports) are more likely to have higher test scores, graduate, and attend college. The reasons are three-fold. Students are engaged, enthusiastic, and develop the belief that they can succeed regardless of any socio-economic limitations.

In countries like the United States, as many as 15 million students (26 percent) are on their own after school. More than a million of these students are in kindergarten through fifth grade. But the challenge for those who become the highest risk students is that either there are no after-school programs, the programs are too broad and not focused enough, or parents are unaware of program availability.

Even more challenging, schools around the country continue to be plagued with budget cuts that jeopardize even the most successful programs like I.S. 318 as after-school programs are often first to be cut. And unlike I.S. 318, some school districts and schools are unwilling to put forth private fundraising efforts to save such programs or reallocate funds from non-vital administrative positions.

The I.S. 318 Story Is A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick. 

At least once a month, Liquid Hip highlights good will efforts undertaken by people with big hearts. We don't score them. That belongs to you.

We chose Brooklyn Castle because the story is an inspiring one that counters mistaken stereotypes.  Starting out in a family below the poverty line does not have to limit a student's potential for a better life. The students of I.S. 318 learn this through chess. You can see their story, Brooklyn Castle, on iTunes or you can order the film from Amazon. You can also visit this amazing school in Brooklyn.

There are dozens of paths that someone can take after watching Brooklyn Castle. You can find ways to help I.S. 318 continue its program or inspire other children through chess by learning from books like Thinking with Chess: Teaching Children (Ages 5-14) from Amazon. The producers of the film have also provided a start-up guide for after-school programs. While the guide doesn't address management, funding, and evaluation, it does provide a quick overview showing that it is possible.
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