Bobby Fischer, the American chess prodigy, once said, “You have to have the fighting spirit. You have to force moves and take chances.” And through an unconventional program at Douglass K-8 Optional School in Memphis, Tennessee, students are certainly taking chances and defying the odds.
When Principal Lionel Cable first joined the school’s administration, only 7 percent of the student body (375 students) was reading at grade level or above. Unable to accept this as a “norm,” Cable started a chess program created to engage students and use the game to give them better academic advantages.
“I knew our kids could always compete with anybody if they were given that opportunity,” he explained. “It was a challenge: let’s experiment and see if we can make chess a part of our curriculum. Well, we did it and it just caught fire.”
The results are paying off. In 2014, Douglass was named a “Rewards School” after students performed within the top 25 percent for the entire state of Tennessee. Our Georgia-Pacific operation in Memphis is proud to support the school so that it can continue to give students the opportunity to strengthen their math, literacy and critical-thinking skills through chess in the classroom.
Outside support has also given these students the chance to take their skills on the road by competing in tournaments across the nation. In April, the girls’ chess team placed second in the nation in the 12th Annual Kasparov Chess Foundation All-Girls National Chess Championships, held in Chicago. But to chess instructor Dr. Jeff Bulington, it’s not the trophy that signifies success.
“A student lost a game in the national championship. He comes in, gets out his board, sets up his pieces and looks at me and says ‘that man just taught me a lesson,’” he recalled. “He was excited about a loss because in the loss he learned something he had never thought about before. To me, that’s a sign of our real success.”