by Dr. Roy Laird
At Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, three out of every four students qualify for free lunch, but when it comes to spirit, support and pure brain power, some of them have plenty of resources. In fact, as we learn in Brooklyn Castle, the award-winning new documentary from Kelly Dellamaggiore, IS 318 is home to some of the strongest young chess players in the country; the school’s teams have brought home nearly 30 national championships. As a longtime proponent of go in the schools, I found the film to be an inspiring reminder of what mind sports can do for kids. Brooklyn Castle follows five members of the 2009-2010 team, each with their own goal. Rochelle Ballantyne wants to be the first African-American female Master level (ELO 2000) player (11/18 update: she made it, with a new rating of 2057 following the recent World Youth Chess Championship in Maribor, Slovenia). Patrick Johnston, on the other hand, just wants a positive result so he can raise his ranking out of the 400s. (Spoiler alert: chess seems to help him with some attention issues he had in earlier grades; he emerges from middle school as an honor student.) As the students pursue their dreams, we are reminded that behind every dream is a team. With support from the school’s budget, fundraising efforts and help from foundations such as Chess-In-The-Schools, school staff go far beyond the call of duty, for instance taking 57 players of all levels to the National Championship in Dallas. That’s 57 potentially life-altering experiences right there. Chess-loving children apply from far and wide because they know that all sixth grade students are required to take at least one period of chess per week; in seventh and eighth grade it becomes an elective, but students can schedule up to seven periods of chess per week. We also meet the players’ families and see the crucial role their support plays. The team’s toughest opponent turns out to be a succession of budget cuts that threatens to take them out of a national competition they know they can win. Hurry if you want to see it in theaters, although the low-tech sound and video quality may be better suited for a smaller screen. You can also read about the school at length in How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.
Brooklyn Castle – in theaters now — vividly highlights the benefits of school-based mind sports programs. (Post-film progress report: As reported in The New York Times earlier this year, five players from IS 318 achieved the equivalent of a college baseball team winning the World Series, becoming the first middle school team to win the National High School Championship!) Go is also a wonderful arena for this kind of growth and development, in some ways even better than chess. If you’re thinking of starting a go program in your community, The American Go Foundation can help you with free equipment, matching funds, mentoring and much more – you’ll be surprised how easy it can be, and how rewarding for teacher and student alike.
- Laird, a former President of the American Go Association, currently serves on the Board of the American Go Foundation and manages school-based mental health clinics for The Children’s Aid Society in New York City.