Volunteers needed as Chess for Success expands

Three years ago, when the Wilsonville Rotary Club welcomed Chess for Sucess Executive Director Julie Young to a meeting, Rotarian Steve Perry liked what he heard.

Chess for Success is a nonprofit education organization that supports teaching chess to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: PORTLAND REIGN PHOTOGRAPHY - More than 30 students at Boones Ferry Primary School have participated in Chess for Success for the past two years.With the Rotary Club agreeing to sponsor a trial, a free Chess for Success (CFS) program was launched at Boones Ferry Primary School in time for the 2011-12 school year. About 30 students participated. And Wilsonville’s other primary school, Boeckman Creek, took notice.

“We ran it for two years at Boones Ferry,” Perry said, “and Boeckman wanted in too.”

After Lowrie Primary School opened in 2012, officials at that school also expressed interest. Now, principals from all three Wilsonville primary school are working with Perry and the Rotary Club to expand the program into each of their schools this fall. Tentative plans call for one-hour sessions twice a week for 25 weeks. Each session would be limited to 30 or 40 children.

The program isn’t really about chess, according to Perry. But don’t tell that to the children. While they think they are having fun and learning a board game, they actually are developing skills that contribute to lifelong success.

“Chess develops critical-thinking skills, it develops logic, focus,” Perry said. “The first time we took a class, they were bouncing off the walls.”

By the first year’s final session, when students received a free chess set of their own to keep, that had changed.

“The thing that amazed me, the instructor gets up in front of the class and says, ‘You’ll get this chess set; you can go home, go to a table for snack and drink or stay here and play chess.’” he recounted. “All the students chose to stay and play chess. Their parents were looking at the food over here, the kids over there.”

With the program expanding to three schools this fall, Perry identified two resources that will be required: financial support and volunteer hours.

The Rotary Club is taking the lead on finances, committing to come up with the $3,000 per school through its own fundraising and by supplementing with grants. The need for volunteers, however, is pressing.

“We need eight (volunteers) per school,” Perry said. “I plan to have two Rotarians per school. I don’t want everyone to volunteer twice a week.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: PORTLAND REIGN PHOTOGRAPHY - Rotarian Jack Kohl helps teach chess to students at Boones Ferry Primary School in December 2012.Each chess session will be led by a certified school employee, who will receive training from CFS. Community members interested in volunteering as assistants should contact the school. No experience with chess is required.

“They can learn along with the kids,” Perry said.

The program teaches the game incrementally. During the first session, students play with only pawns on the table. The next time, rooks are added, with knights, bishops, queens and kings being added at each successive session.

“Three weeks and you have a full board,” Perry said, “learning in a way that you’re not overwhelmed by the mechanics.”

A former management consultant who retired in 2003, Perry had been volunteering as a teacher’s helper at Boones Ferry for four or five years before becoming involved with CFS. He has an interest in education, specifically science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, areas of study. Discussing how his interests in STEM and chess mesh, Perry said that Oregon students lag behind the national average for receiving college degrees in STEM areas. He listed some of the skills that contribute to success in STEM fields.”Critical-thinking skills, logic, comprehension,” he said, adding that chess has been proven to develop those skills.

CFS’s motto is “Helping children succeed, one move at a time,” and experts in cognitive development agree that playing chess benefits children’s brains. Students who play can develop their critical-thinking and decision-making skills, learn patience and gain an understanding of the consequences of their actions.

For those reasons, Perry is confident that he will be able to round up the volunteers the program will need as it expands from Boones Ferry to Boeckman Creek and Lowrie this fall.

“I’m going to be talking with the PTAs at each of the schools,” he said. “I have an interest in kids. They should have a vested interest.”

For more information about CFS, visit the organization’s website at If you are interested in becoming a CFS volunteer, contact the principal of the grade school where you are interested in volunteering.

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