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Chess program offers opportunities for ICA students

[imagefield_assist|fid=3530|preset=frontpage_200x200|lightbox=true|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=200|height=200]SAINT LOUIS, March 17, 2010 -- Students from the Innovative Concept Academy (ICA) got their first taste of tournament chess this weekend at Lindbergh High School.

The scholastic chess tournament, run by the Gateway Chess League, featured tournament participants that ranged from grades K-12. The students from the ICA were sponsored by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, which operates a curriculum-based, in-school program at the school as well as an after-school chess program.

Both programs are designed to engage the students and improve scholastic aptitude in math, science, reading and critical thinking.

The ICA is a collaborative effort between MERS Goodwill, Saint Louis Public Schools and the Saint Louis Juvenile Courts. It is the brainchild of Judge Jimmie Edwards who founded the school as an alternative method of education for at-risk youth. He said this was the first chess tournament he or any of the students had ever attended.

“In fact, some of the children had never ever been out of the city of Saint Louis, so just going to Saint Louis County was a new adventure for some of the children,” Judge Edwards said. “It was an overwhelming success for us.”

School personnel, Judge Edwards, and their coach Bill Thompson accompanied six male students and one female student to the tournament at Lindbergh.

Judge Edwards said the program at the ICA provided by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis has been well-received by students.

“We’re excited about the fact that it’s a part of our curriculum,” he said.

The school, located in the old Blewett school building at 1927 Cass Avenue in Saint Louis, stresses a creative and engaging learning environment designed to attract the interest, and keep the attention, of students who have been in trouble with the law or who have previously demonstrated a reluctance to classroom engagement.

Although the chess program has only been up-and-running since early January, Edwards said there are already more than 40 students at the school with a firm understanding of the game.

“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Bill [Thompson] gets the credit for this. He has molded those children; he has molded their minds; he has gotten them interested. In just 2 ½ months … it’s an absolutely amazing accomplishment.”

Thompson became a full-time employee at the Chess Club in November, with primary repsonsibility for instruction and curriculum development at the ICA under the direction of Matt Lodge, the scholastics director for the Chess Club.

“For all these students, it gives them confidence,” Thompson said. “They learn a new skill, which is probably something that they didn’t know they could learn, and with that confidence they start to gain self-respect. Once they have the confidence and the self-respect ... they start demonstrating that in their behavior.” 

Students benefit from a five-day-a-week, hour-long class where they learn the basics of chess along with critical thinking skills. The after-school program is available for high-school and middle-school students to practice and hone their chess abilities.

Judge Edwards said one student who traveled to the tournament over the weekend came to the ICA with a particularly difficult disposition. Over the past few weeks, he said, the chess program changed that student’s entire attitude and outlook. 

“One year ago this would not have a happened,” Judge Edwards said. “First of all, we would not have had him in school. Secondly, he would not have been in a chess program. But thirdly, what chess has taught the children is to be humble, to be respectful of your opponent, and it has given them the urge to continue to get better.”

Edwards said this tournament in particular gave the kids some incentive to continue to play the game, and he hopes to organize more tournaments at the ICA in the near future.

“They did a tremendous job at the tournament,” Thompson said. “They competed, showed sportsmanship and showed character.”