December 22, 2010

Checkmate: JDC Uses Chess to Empower Immigrants

Israel is considered a chess superpower, largely thanks to the massive immigration of over 1.1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, which brought some of the best players and coaches in the world to the country. Israel has six players ranked in the world's top 100; has 30 chess Grand Masters, with some of the highest concentrations of Grand Masters in the world.

The Israeli Chess Federation (ICF) – JDC's partner in this program – was founded in 1946 and today unites some 100 chess clubs around Israel. The ICF holds national league competitions in which 400 teams compete, representing over 4,000 registered chess players.

Chess and Education
The value of playing chess is well known. International research shows that chess has a positive influence on educational performance, improving both critical and creative thought. School students who study chess in a systematic way show improvements in numeric and verbal reasoning – leading to stronger reading and memory skills - within a year of starting chess.

Expanding Chess Playing Among the Young
JDC seeks to capitalize on the chess resources within Israel for the benefit of children and youth living in Israel's social periphery through the Checkmate! program, by introducing chess clubs in schools and youth centers. The program trains young adults with strong chess skills – in all likelihood, immigrants from the former Soviet Union - in the art of chess instruction through the Chess Coach Training Course. This will ensure that a new generation of chess instructors develops in Israel. These new instructors will then turn their hobby into their profession, finding employment within the chess clubs, where children from all backgrounds will have a chance to grapple with the challenges posed them by a game of chess.

Chess clubs are offered in local schools, as well as in youth centers. They are offered in kindergartens as well as in senior centers.

Following success in JDC's pilot of this program – seven coaches certified and 800 children learning chess in each location, JDC expanded Checkmate! further, adding another two locations by the end of 2008. School staff reported that the students who participated in the chess program improved their concentration levels and academic performance, as well as their overall behavior and self-esteem. In the weakest neighborhoods of Israel's periphery, the introduction of chess has a real impact on children who would otherwise have no structured activity during after-school hours. In addition, this program will help connect Israelis from all walks of life; immigrants and veterans, religious and secular, and Arabs and Jews will all have chess as a common denominator.

No comments: