Monday, March 3, 2008

CBS 4 Features Chess Students

Inner-City Students Get All Their Pawns In Place
Jawan Strader MIAMI (CBS4) ―

Students at Edison Park Elementary in Miami have a good chess team, one that could go to the national competitions in Pennsylvania if they had the money. Their art teacher and chess coach are working with the community to see that all the pieces come together.

There isn't a day that 11-year-old Jacqueline Cordova doesn't walk into class telling Charles Webber, Edison Park Elementary's chess coach, a story of some crime that happened in her neighborhood.

"I'd rather be here in school and playing chess, because there's a lot of violence in my neighborhood," she said. "I tell my coach the stories all the time."

Cordova is a member of the Edison Park elementary Rooks chess team who won first place out of 24 teams with 21 points in the kindergarten through fifth- grade category in the 2007 Florida Scholastic Chess Championship.

"I practice all the time. We have a good coach. He encourages us to keep going even if we lose," Cordova said. "The game helps me in math."

The school had four students finish in the top twenty at a March competition held at the Sheraton Miami Mart Hotel. More than 1,500 children from all over Florida participated. In the tournament, students faced opponents with comparable ratings.

Chess is a novelty in the school. It was implemented by Joe Rubio, 43, two years ago. He came to Edison Park two years ago from Paul W. Bell Middle School. The school is located at 500 NW 67th St., an area prone to violence. It is termed a "zone" school, which is considered a low-performing school.

"I was in shock when I heard of the victory. We faced schools that have had the chess program for more than 15 years," Rubio said. "This shows that low-performing schools can be productive. I knew they would do well."

Rubio, who picked up the game 15 years ago as a hobby, said he taught it to "at-risk students" at his former school.

"I introduced the game. All of a sudden, I saw these kids who were hyper calm down," Rubio said. "They started to better in school and their way of thinking changed. My son is also playing it and I see progress in him, too."

To put the program together, Rubio overcame some hurdles. He didn't have any equipment nor a coach. He called Andy Ramos, District Chess Coordinator Division of Life Skills and Special Projects of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, who he had never spoken to. Ramos and his department supplied the team with some equipment. Also, the Title One program gave the team an introductory package that all new programs receive.

Soon after, he approached Webber, an art teacher at the school, and asked if he would be their coach.

At first, Webber had doubts. He told Rubio he didn't know how to play and that some of these kids couldn't even read at grade level.

However, Webber doesn't like to back down from challenges. "The challenge drove me to learn chess. I love challenges. It motivates me," Webber said. "I bought computer chess games and started to practice on my own and with the kids."

He picked 12 students with good academics and made them practice constantly. The team has since increased to 18.

In the first few tournaments, the Rooks were defeated badly. So Webber then took it upon himself to read journals and study the game further. He also solicited advice from other chess coaches in the county. "I wanted these guys to win. I felt bad when they lost, so I took it upon myself to teach them," he said.

(see video below)

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