At a school for troubled kids on this city’s tough North Side, life’s lessons are learned on a chessboard.
In Room 103, Marqwon, 16 years old, kicked out of his regular school for bringing in a nail-studded piece of wood, tapped his forefinger in the air as he mapped out his next six moves.
Across the board, 15-year-old Joann, sent here after throwing a punch at a classmate, was losing the match and wasn’t happy about it.
“You’re just embarrassing me,” she said, toppling her king with a smack. “You know it’s over.”
Her action coaxed chess instructor Bill Thompson to the table. “Let’s not give up,” he said. “Let’s think of a way to get out of this.”
Chess has been a part of after-school programs for at least 40 years, but mainly in the suburbs. In the last decade, it has exploded in popularity in urban areas as research showed that students who play chess do better on achievement exams, especially math.
But few schools offer chess as an academic subject–and fewer still require it, especially for students already labeled as troublemakers, like the ones here.