The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 1, 2007


Carlisle School's Chess Club is a hit

Chess is hot on Friday mornings at Carlisle School, where over 60 students in grades pre-K to four can be found bent over their chessboards, or taking group lessons. For an hour before elementary school starts, the students pair off, note their wins and losses, and discuss strategies with over 14 parent volunteers.

The Chess Club started modestly a year ago, said founders Nancy Szczesniak and David West, with ten students meeting in parents' homes. Word spread, and the club expanded to encompass 75 registered students, each taking three eight-week sessions.

Though there is presently no fee, Szczesniak said some parents donate funds. "We pull money out of our pockets as well," added Szczesniak. The donations go toward the special chess sets, which are larger than the standard sets, have roll-up boards, and larger pieces. In the center of the dining room on a large round table an even larger set is laid out, used for instructing beginning chess players as well as demonstrating strategies to advanced students.

Students are sorted by their chess experience, explained parent and instructor Brian Mottershead. Each game is recorded, and results are kept in a database. This information is used, Mottershead explained, to adjust the pairs. "Some kids get sad when they lose," he explained, though there have not been any real problems. By matching children by their ability, the kids have been challenged but not overwhelmed. "We try to instill good sportsmanship." The kids shake hands after every game, and chess clocks are not used, so the atmosphere is relaxed. "There are no prizes, no champions," he said.

Mottershead said there have been some studies done on the connection between math skills and chess playing. "Skills in pattern recognition" are developed, he noted. Having students as young as kindergarten focus for an hour improves concentration skills, he added.

Near the end of the session, before kids gathered their backpacks and headed to their classrooms, Mottershead held a strategy session with a vertical chessboard. The kids gathered closely, clearly focused. Students then left, in a surprisingly orderly way for such a spread of ages. "The people who run it are excellent," said parent Holly Salemy.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito