Young students from Meade Elementary learn the game of chess from the Director of Community Relations L. Harrison Jay, and gain life lessons in the process.
The concept of playing chess dates back to the Early Middle Ages and still persists today as a method of intellectual development and cultural growth.
In September 2009, the Director of Community Relations L. Harrison Jay started a chess program at Temple in collaboration with Meade Elementary School, located approximately two blocks from Main Campus.
The chess program provides local fifth and sixth grade students with a comforting, free place to go year-round every Thursday from 3:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. This program is a “safe haven for these kids,” Jay said.
Jay learned how to play chess from his grandmother, and played on his high school team all four years. His experience has taught him to compare the values and responsibilities of particular pieces on the chess board with values and responsibilities in life.
“[Chess] truly is about how you handle yourself in life,” Jay said.
“These kids in elementary school, that’s where you have to get them, when they’re in high school and college, that’s a little late, that’s how I see chess impacting these young guys,” Jay added.
Physics professor, Chess Master and former president of the U.S. Chess Federation, Leroy Dubeck, said it’s important to target young kids to play chess because it trains their minds to study and to “think and plan ahead.”
“It’s motivation like other athletics are,” Dubeck said. “It’s a real life experience and it shows youngsters where they are relative to others.”
While teaching the participating students how to play chess, Jay also takes their academics into consideration.
“These kids here, they’re C, B average students with the potential of being A students,” Jay said. “There’s a lot of issues at home, there’s a lot of issues that they face just going to school and in school.”
Kaseem Joyner, a sixth grade student from Meade Elementary, said, “[Jay] checks our report card each time we get one, he tells us what we need to work on.”
Jay also gives the students regular research-based homework assignments on famous chess players, like Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.
“Unlike some chess clubs who simply focus just on the chess component, I try to instill a learning component as a part of the club,” Jay said.
With behavior being a focus issue when referring to kids growing up in inner-city neighborhoods, Jay tries to teach students how to handle confrontations without fighting.
Jay not only helps with chess development, schoolwork and behavior, but also acts as a father figure to these pre-teens.
“Mr. Jay is like a dad to me because he always teaches us how to become appropriate young men and be respectful and responsible in school and how to work issues out,” said 11-year-old Thomas Brown, who has been consistently engaged in the program since it was created.
The students who attend the program every Thursday enjoy wearing their matching red-collared chess club shirts around Temple’s Main Campus, an area that exposes them to many positive things they aren’t usually exposed to. They also get the opportunity to interact with work study students or interns that work in the Office of Community Relations, Jay said.
Students in the club sometimes play chess with Temple students and staff, like Public Affairs Communications Manager Andrew McGinley, who actually fell short one time when playing against 11-year-old Joyner.
It is easy to see the excitement the students possess when they understand a new chess concept, and how engaged they can become in each game.
“I learn something new each time I come here,” Joyner said.
The students really enjoy their time spent with Jay and with each other on Thursdays. In addition to helping the young adults succeed intellectually, “It keeps us off the streets,” Brown said.
When Jay had to cancel club once because of prior engagements, he said the students told him he couldn’t do that again.
“You would’ve thought I had closed down your school,” Jay said.
Lauren Hertzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.