The Eastern Shore Scholastic Chess Association (ESSCA) is seeking coaches and mentors for school students as it restarts after-school chess clubs and plans further expansions into adjacent counties and through community organizations. The restart follows a long hiatus due to COVID-19 shutdowns.
The ESSCA evolved from a club formed at Nandua Middle School about a dozen years ago. Its purpose is to have a prepackaged chess program for school-age students. The program and curriculum are easy to adopt. They are consistent across the schools and clubs in resource-thin areas such as the Eastern Shore. That reduces the disruption caused by school-staff changes. These had always required a complete reinvention of the program, so they did not happen.
Anyone who can read can easily teach beginners how to play chess from the guides on the ESSCA website. The secure, online, self-paced Chesskid.com, created for students by Chess.com, is central to the effort. It provides many of the lessons supporting the ESSCA curriculum. It also gives opportunities for playing chess against students world-wide at any time, and in on-line tournaments.
Accomack Public School District adopted the program late in 2018, setting a goal of a club in each of its eleven schools. Nandua and Arcadia Middle and High Schools and Kegotank Elementary School had clubs formed and operating when the pandemic shut down all such activities. The Melfa Monarchs club at Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC) is also a part of the system.
Each club must have a faculty sponsor from the host school or community organization for smooth operation and growth, and to teach the beginners. A second coach for each club is generally needed to develop the skills of those who are no longer beginners. If the club cannot provide that coach, ESSCA must develop the resources to do so.
“Further expansion means we must grow the supply of coaches, especially for kids above the beginner level” said Alan Silverman recently at the Mary N. Smith Cultural Enrichment Center. There, the Eastern Shore Boys & Girls Club has formed a chess group under the sponsorship of board member Javon Smith, with material and coaching support from ESSCA. Similar after-school programs are at the Pocomoke YMCA and the Davis Center in Parksley. Expansion into Northampton County would also require coaches from that area.
Silverman served as Executive Director from the formation of the not-for-profit ESSCA until recently. That role is now being taken over by Ralph Lopez, who operates a chess club in Salisbury and a weekly on-line tournament, and who is a Tournament Director certified by the US Chess Federation. Silverman will focus instead on expansion, development and further product improvement. The recent addition to the ESSCA Board of ESCC Associate Professor Stephanie Zodun, who heads the Early Childhood Education department, brings powerful K-12 teaching and school administration knowledge to the effort.
The benefits to students are solidly documented, both by research and anecdote. Lopez said, “Kids learn ‘life success through the skills of chess.’ They learn how to make better decisions by identifying and evaluating alternative choices, and chess gives quick feedback on their decisions. They learn how to consider the ideas and motives of their opponents. Polite sportsmanship is required. They learn that losing is not fatal, but part of life and an opportunity for growth. Anecdotally, we learned that classroom discipline improves.”
Coaches receive stipends to compensate for the time they invest in teaching chess to youth.
ESSCA continues to be supported by the Landsberger Foundation and the Accomack County School System. The Eastern Shore Scholastic Chess website states the school system “recognizes the academic and social benefits of chess to the student, and the consistency of life-skills learned in chess with both STEM and Virginia Employment Readiness Skills educational objectives.”