Video: Cedar Rapids middle school students learn life lessons via chess

Clubs now in place at Roosevelt and Wilson schools

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A new program at Roosevelt and Wilson middle schools uses the game of chess to teach sixth graders lessons about leadership and character.

The collaboration between Horizons and the Zach Johnson Foundation’s Kids on Course program, which started at the beginning of the school year, also is designed to support youth in need of extra attention.

“There was definitely a group of boys who we felt were facing some challenges that we weren’t quite sure how to address,” said Hannah White, site manager for Kids on Course at Roosevelt Middle School. “Pretty high tardies, some office referrals, some fighting, just not where we wanted them to be, or anybody would want their middle schooler.

“The thread that pulled them all together were they were kids of color and boys in particular,” White added. “While we celebrate diversity on our staff on Kids on Course, we don’t have any African-American men, and we just really thought that that was important, if we were going to bring mentors in, they would be a reflection of who these kids are,” White said.

Kids on Course reached out to Karl Cassell, president and CEO at Horizons. Cassell then reached out to Daniel Pledge-Johnson, Neighborhood Health Manager at Horizons. Lunches with the students evolved into the chess clubs.

During a recent meeting, Johnson began by asking students to set up their chess boards. Students then took turn reading a passage from the curriculum. The lesson focused on the art of losing well.

“Would you believe that some of you had been a good loser?” he asked students. “Why would you come back to the next game if you were a sore loser?”

On a chalkboard at the front of the classroom, students created their own list of rules to help hold themselves accountable. Students should be respectful, arrive to class on time and not fight, they said. Students also decd on consequences to breaking the rules. For example, a late arrival could result in doing some pushups.

Celestin Kobagize, 11, said he has enjoyed being around his friends during meetings and he has gained confidence. Kobagize said he did not know how to play chess before joining the club.

“It was a great experience learning about a new game,” he said.

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