March 22, 2023
New Prince Student-Led Chess Club Offers Mentorship Opportunity
Written By: Leila Todd (Prince junior)
Because chess is an intricate and sophisticated game, it is commonly associated with adults instead of school children. However, through the leadership of Prince seniors Ian Leierzapf and Robert Skaggs and the aid of Prince’s administration, Prince 3rd-5th grade students have the weekly opportunity to learn the game of chess while under the mentorship of their high school chess coaches. Prince high school students also participate in Chess Club but rather than competing against their fellow high school peers, they join to aid and encourage the elementary students as they learn chess. This unique spin on the traditional idea of Chess Club makes it both a mentorship program and the opportunity for lower school students to develop their academic skills through a popular and sophisticated game.
Learning the Game
Every Wednesday afternoon, 3rd-5th grade Chess Club students gather in the library with their high school mentors and listen as Ian or Robert teach a brief lesson on the fundamentals of chess. With numerous newly purchased chess sets, the lower school students pair up with each other and practice their developing chess skills through a practice game or activity. As they practice, students are consistently reminded of chess etiquette such as keeping the environment quiet and shaking hands with your opponent after a game. Ian agrees that Chess Club is a great addition for young students at Prince Avenue. “Chess provokes creativity and professionalism, and it activates the mind to think outside of the box.”
Week 1 consisted of learning the names of the pieces and getting comfortable with the chess board. From that point on, Chess Club members built on a skill from the week prior until the game and all its pieces were comprehensible. At the beginning of March, Chess Club participants competed against their high school coaches in a fully complex and professional game of chess. Numerous students had even gained enough knowledge of chess to declare, “Checkmate!” to their high school coaches! Throughout the 3rd-5th graders’ experience of learning chess, their high school coaches remained by their sides to encourage and offer guidance through every game and activity.
A Unique Twist
Typical chess clubs exist to give students the opportunity to play against their peers in competitive games of chess. Prince Avenue offers a unique twist on the traditional structure of a chess club, though, because it is a mentorship program to the same extent that it teaches chess. Chess Club participants get to see their favorite high school students on a weekly basis and spend an hour with them in a comfortable and encouraging environment. Ian agrees, “I would have loved to have a chess club program when I was younger because the kids spend an hour with high school students which gives them quality time around older kids.” Because chess is a universal game, enjoyed by a wide variety of age groups, it is the perfect opportunity for both elementary and high school students to participate in the same activity and grow relationships with each other. Robert says, “All the coaches use Chess Club to form bonds with the children and make connections with them.”
Though lower school students are young and are still developing intellectually, Robert believes the students are mature enough to learn chess. “They are young children, but they are advanced enough to understand the complexity of chess.”
An Idea Becomes Reality
When forming the idea for Chess Club, Ian and Robert called upon Prince Media Center Specialist Danny Delgado for his guidance and sponsorship for the club. Mr. Delgado’s expertise gave Ian and Robert the skills required to lead the elementary students and keep them focused through the weekly lesson. With his help, they also received approval to purchase brand-new chess sets for the students to use each week. Additionally, he aided them in handling logistics such as ordering the chess sets, creating a curriculum, and getting parents and students involved.
Robert and Ian formed the idea for Chess Club in the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, making Chess Club the first student-founded and student-led club at Prince Avenue. Though they will graduate from Prince Avenue this spring, Ian and Robert have ambitious hopes for the future of Chess Club. One of their aspirations is for students to participate in chess tournaments next year. Additionally, they hope to pass on the Chess Club co-presidency to other high school students so that they can carry on the program.