Third-grader CJ Fairchild leaned over to help Principal Jarrol Olson make his next move in a chess game last week at Ponderosa Elementary School.
“I’ve played chess for three years,” the 9-year old said. “You can master it if you keep working on it.”
CJ was playing against another third-grader, Noah Howard, 9.
“I like seeing the wooden horses,” he said, explaining that those are called knights. “I like how all the different pieces have different moves.”
The two have been staying after school two days a week this month to learn to play chess. Some of the students had never played before, while some were a little more experienced.
Jack Galloway, or Grandpa Jack, as the students know him, has been teaching the class. It’s funded through Student Motivating Activities and Recreation Time – or SMART – funds, monies distributed to the school from the district for after-school activities. Galloway is a volunteer and SMART pays for supplies.
The school has offered other after-school activities, including crafts, readers’ theater, sports and foreign language programs.
Galloway said he learned to play chess when he was 20 and has tried to teach the game to other family members, but they didn’t seem all that interested. A number of years ago, his father-in-law brought over a chess board and the two played.
“As he slaughtered me, he laughed,” Galloway said. After that, Galloway went to the library and read as many books as he could to learn to play.
Earlier this year, he and his wife attended a grandfather’s celebration at the school where his grandson attends, he decided to volunteer to teach chess.
His grandson didn’t join. But there were about 25 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in attendance last week, some of them there to play Grandpa Jack.
Erik Wolfrum, a fourth-grader, played Galloway last week.
“He’s real smart,” Galloway said. “He knows how the pieces move. There’s always a logic with him.”
Erik’s father, also Erik Wolfrum, said his son learned to play from a cousin and they sometimes play at home.
“He loves it,” the elder Wolfrum said.
“It’s strategic,” the youngster said. “It’s fun.”
One tip the students learned? To hold their hands behind their back while they considered their next move.
“You have to look with your eyes,” said third-grader Kali Brown.
Olson, the principal, said chess is a good game for the kids to learn because it motivates them to listen carefully. It teaches strategy, reasoning, cautiousness and risk taking, “all elements very important to learning.”
SMART coordinator Cathy Weaver said because the students now know how to play, they are hoping to start a chess club once school resumes after winter break.
Third-grade teacher Tiffany Cicchetti said the school used to have a chess club, but it disbanded at least nine years ago.
For the students, it’s not just fun to learn to play their friends. They are having fun playing the adults, too.
“I’m zero for one tonight,” Olson said of his playing record.