The ChessTech 2020 conference organized by ChessPlus in December 2020 attracted over 500 participants from more than 40 countries. Jerry Nash had the opportunity to lead a question-and-answer session on the first day of the conference with Principal Salome Thomas-EL of the Thomas Edison Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware. This is Part 2 of a 4-part series featuring his responses to various questions regarding his background in education and his belief in the power of chess as an educational tool.
Q – You have written several books and included your success with chess. And how has your involvement with chess changed you as an educator? What has that allowed you to accomplish in terms of reaching students?
Well, it changed in my whole mindset. You know there is a lot of research around growth mindset for kids and adults. And what I realize now is that thirty years ago – because I’ve been a principal twenty years, an educator for thirty-three years – is that I was using chess to change the mindsets of children in the 80’s and 90’s. And so what it has done for me as a principal and an educator is that any school that I lead – and any superintendent that hires me knows – that chess must be a part of the school!
So in my school currently, chess is a part of the curriculum. These students are learning chess as early as Kindergarten. We also have chess at breakfast, chess at lunch, and chess after school. We have a competitive chess team and we have chess on Saturday’s – on some Saturday’s – for those students who can’t stay after school.
Some people say chess is a great after-school program, why don’t we just keep it as an after school-program? But some students can’t stay for an after-school program. If you work with students who are in struggling communities, or in other communities, even in rural and suburban communities, some of them may have after-school jobs. They may have other responsibilities. So when chess is part of the curriculum, part of the school day, they don’t miss it. Because if they miss chess, they miss out on school. So it’s a part of any school curriculum where I am.
Now luckily for me, I’m the head of a public charter school here in the United States. So, I have some autonomy to impact the curriculum. But we’ve seen other schools now pick up the idea that they want to include chess in their schools and my former chess players, some are now educators. One is now principal. So now the message is spreading.