CINCINNATI - If you could improve your child's math ability, reading ability and self-esteem by teaching him or her a board game, would you?
As we turn the focus to education in our Ten Years Later series, 9 News found that some school districts like Norwood have tapped into an ancient game and found some astonishing results.
The game is chess. Studies have linked chess to improved concentration, discipline and better grades. And a decade after the unrest downtown, it is also bringing our city's children together.
"Our first club 10 years ago there were four kids in it," said Marshall Dykes.
Dykes is a fifth grade science teacher in Norwood City Schools and founder of the Norwood Knights Chess Club.
"Right now there are a little over 120 kids in the Norwood City Schools who are playing chess every single week," said Dykes.
On an unseasonably warm day in February, 9 News went to Sharpsburg Elementary School to learn about the magic of chess and what it is doing for the children who are playing.
A group of 40 or more student chess players left the warm afternoon behind as they anxiously awaited Dykes to come and open the door so they could get back inside to play their favorite game.
Eleven-year-old Bailey Vannelli was one of them.
"I like chess because it gives me something to do and I can stay out of trouble," said Vannelli.
One time Vannelli was escorted home by a police officer for throwing rocks at cars. He credits chess as a major factor in his change of behavior.
"I've gotten more mature and I just stopped. Chess gives me something to do and I'm staying out of trouble," said Vannelli.
Katie Dykes, Marshall's wife and a fellow fifth grade science teacher, says the game is bringing kids from all walks of life together.
"I think if you look in Norwood sometimes the kids don't always get along and sometimes it's based on race," said Dykes.
She thinks the game's appeal creates a common language for everyone regardless of their background.
"Everybody just comes to play. At first they come for teachers like Mr. Dykes, who is a legend in Norwood, but then they stay for the game and everybody just comes together," said Dykes.
The body of research supporting chess as an educational tool is large. Here are just a few examples:
- In a 1974-76 Belgium study, a group of fifth graders who were playing chess enjoyed a statistically significant gain in cognitive development over a control group.
- A study at the Chinese University in Hong Kong done between 1977-79 found that chess players saw a 15 percent improvement in math and science test scores.
- William Levy, a New Jersey educator, doing research between 1980-87 found chess promoted self-esteem after playing for a year.
- A 1994-97 study of Texas elementary students who played in a chess club at school demonstrated double the improvement of non-chess players in Reading and Math between the third and fifth grade on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.
"One of my favorite stories from chess club-- a little guy was playing. We had a school tournament and he wins the final game. Now he wins against the kid who has been in gifted classes since he was in kindergarten-- he has always straight A's, he is the best in the class, and the brightest in the class, and has been since kindergarten. When [the little guy] wins he literally has tears in his eyes and he looks at me and he goes, 'Mr. Dykes, I'm not stupid.'"
A week later we met Vannelli at the Sharpsburg chess club we joined him at home for a conversation with his mother Dina Spurling. She told us that chess has been instrumental in her son's improved temperament and grades.
"Chess has definitely helped him transform from a lack of concentration to being able to focus on things and to concentrate better. Chess has been really helpful," said Spurling.
In their family living room Vannelli played with and defeated the older brother who taught him the game. A few days later, he would be playing in the biggest event of his young chess career.
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Just as 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the civil unrest downtown, it also marks the 10th anniversary of the Queen City Classic Chess Tournament held every year at Paul Brown Stadium.
"This tournament is a gem," said Grandmaster Maurice Ashley, who is the first and currently only African-American grandmaster. Ashley, along with Grandmaster Gregory Kaidanov and International Master Irina Krush, come to the Queen City Classic every year to play and work with the hundreds of kids who come from all over the country.
"It's simply one of the top tournaments in the United States for kids. It's now the 10th year so it really is an institution and I'm sure Cincinnatians would