ONTARIO—Ontario Middle School sixth grader Blake Trees says chess is one of his favorite games because it is like a giant math problem.
“It tests the brain and uses strategy,” said Trees’ opponent, sixth grader Christopher Grenicko.
The pair are part of Ontario School District’s chess club, which meets twice a week after school at May Roberts Elementary School. There are two groups, kindergarten through fifth grade and sixth through eighth grade. The club’s adviser, May Roberts Elementary third-grade teacher Carolyn Bryden, teaches the game’s basics to the younger children and strategy to the older ones.
The club is part of a nationwide nonprofit organization, Chess for Success, which uses the skills learned through chess to teach children about life and further their education within the classroom.
“It’s such a great program,” Bryden said. “It really teaches kids to think before they move, and so it gives them that chance to focus and figure out the problem before they act on it.”
Bryden said these skills transfer into the children’s daily lives. There are several students who are high achievers within the group, which is 35 members strong when both the classes are combined, but Bryden has seen those who struggle with academics benefit from the club as well.
“I’ve seen so many times where a kid is lower academically and they’ll come in and understand chess and it’s something that they’re good at and so they keep coming back,” Bryden said. “It gives them a sense of pride and confidence in themselves.”
First grader Ridly Folden is one of Bryden’s “rising stars” in the club. He routinely plays the older students during their meetings.
“I like trying to get the queen,” Folden said, “and I like to get the king in checkmate.”
The upcoming challenge for the chess club is their regional competition, which will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re the only ones in our region, so we’ll just be playing ourselves,” said Bryden, “but every year I take the top kids to state in Portland.”
Bryden said she generally takes six of the older children and is allowed to take up to 10 of the kindergarten through fifth-grade group. She usually ends up taking about six of them as well.
“I haven’t always taken the K-5 club. It depends upon where they’re at and how active they are in the club,” Bryden said. “One of my best players is in first grade, and his parents wouldn’t want a 6-year-old going on the trip.”
The trip to Portland usually lasts three days, with the team leaving just after lunch on a Thursday and returning Saturday. They play chess, of course, but Bryden said she also takes the students around Portland, allowing them to soak in some cultural and educational experiences.
“We take the kids somewhere cultural for dinner and a night on the town and then, on Saturday we take them to the OMSI [Oregon Museum of Science and Industry],” Bryden said. “I was born and raised in Portland, so we’ll stay at my parents’ house a lot of times.”
For the children involved in the program, the trip is a highlight.
“My favorite part is going to Portland,” said eighth grader Aaron Carpenter.
Carpenter has been part of the club for six years and has been to Portland twice for the state competition. He enjoys getting out of town as much as he enjoys the game, like most of the kids in the club.
“Chess is fun,” said Trees. “It’s kind of like hunting. You set the traps and someone walks into it and then you’ve caught a rabbit.”