The man with the thousand-watt gaze

12/15/2002 – The Mott Hall School. Jerald Times, chess master and teacher, has a thousand-watt gaze and skin the color of bitter chocolate. He radiates energy as he patrols the classroom, urging fourth and fifth graders to fight through chess problems that he has given them. NM Jerald, a FIDE-2359 player, is the subject of an uplifting story in the New York Times. We bring you excerpts and pictures here.

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Life Lessons at a City School

In his New York Times story (you may need to register to read it) Brent Staples describes students crowding into the Mott Hall School, a cramped former convent in Upper Manhattan. Despite poor families and difficult lives, the Dark Knights have repeatedly won championships, beating out students from rich districts where children grow up with every advantage.

A child who attends Mott Hall is required to take at least one semester of chess. A substantial number of those students stick with it, taking more and more advanced chess classes every year. Chess and academic excellence seem to go hand in hand. About one-fifth of the students who leave this school go on to elite prep schools, and about 50 percent get into competitive public high schools. These would be staggering numbers in any case, but they are especially impressive given that Mott Hall serves a poor, heavily Dominican district where that kind of academic excellence is rare.

Studies show that children who participate in chess programs typically experience at least modest gains in academic achievement. But the children who attend Mott Hall do not just play chess – they live it. "The vitality of the fourth- and fifth-grade chess class I visited last week was something to see," writes Brent Staples. Jerald Times began the class by assigning complex chess problems to T'Keynah Binyamin, a lanky fifth grader with waist-length dreadlocks, and her two fourth-grade teammates, Scarlett Jimenez and Marielle Montero. Young girls can often be intimidated when placed in competitive settings with louder, more raucous boys. And girls can sometimes have trouble "catching up to their own brilliance," as Mr. Times puts it. But T'Keynah, Scarlett and Marielle went to work without the least bit of shyness or dismay, solving the problem within 10 minutes.

Another interesting article, with lots of pictures, appeared on the Chess Drum (the "original Pan-African Chess Site) last year. It describes how ten players of African descent traveled to historic Harlem to play in the Wilbert Paige Memorial tournament. Apart from chess excellence gracing historic Harlem, something more important was happening. A high level of bonding took place, and that was also felt when the players interacted with each other, the spectators, and with the youth on the rest day. "This tournament was held in an ideal location," the author writes. "Perhaps the residents of Harlem were not aware that a new renaissance was taking place. . . a chess renaissance!!"

Working with the computer. We will make sure that the Mott Hall School gets the latest chess software and invite them to participate in tournaments on the Playchess server.





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