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Opinion

Why my students asked Obama to play chess with them

It could help keep them and students like them in school.

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Every one of my students learned to play chess this year. What's more, they all began to think more clearly and often, and think before they acted. Achievers blossomed and borderline drop-outs are now making the honor roll and are seriously thinking about college and jobs that do not involve fries or result in an orange jumpsuit and leg irons.

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Think of the potential. During a time when funds are running dry, if they've not already evaporated, and handwringing about how to turn children into thinkers seems to be growing, a chess movement in education could be just what we need to begin to revive education.

Many of my students face the threat of expulsion for not being able to pay their tuition. Other students have been accepted to college, but have failed to find any funding. This is absurd and sad.

But, thanks to chess, these children have become critical thinkers. Determined, they held a mini "war room" discussion. They decided that their best strategy to get out of this corner, and help others do the same, was to promote awareness, raise money, and to "go for the king." Their move? Challenge President Obama and the White House staff to play them and the students at O'Connell School in a game of chess – at The White House. This benefit they've concocted may seem like a bit of a stretch, but it's a risk worth taking.

Last week Rahm Emanuel received a long cardboard tube packed with their essays, letters of request, and one precious possession: a scholastic tournament set with "Mr. Prez" scrawled in Sharpie marker on the underside of a king.

Money raised for this benefit will go to a new fund for chess scholars providing scholarships any kid can have a chance at winning by playing chess in an HHCF-sponsored, Ryan Academy, or O'Connell School tournament. Hopefully this will also inspire individuals to donate to the schools or HHCF.

Students will work with the CEO of Hip Hop Chess to create a guide and DVD to be given to schools interested in how they can bring chess into the classroom, without expense to the school or taxpayer.

In six months these two pilot schools working with the HHCF have built self-esteem, raised standardized test scores, and reached those thought to be lost causes. It's possible for this success to reach children across the US.

It's riding on one spectacularly out-of-the-box strategy and a new administration that is being given the opportunity to help create change without an act of Congress.

Lisa Suhay writes from Norfolk, Va., and is the author of eight children's books.

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