Chess Mates: Club Logs 30 Years and Counting

At 3:30 on most any Tuesday afternoon, the hallways of Lakeside Elementary are teeming with students eager to make their way out of the building and homeward.

In the colder months, however, getting out of school is the last thing on a growing number of Lakeside students’ minds. Instead they make their way to spaces that have been transformed for an hour once a week into a sort of chess central.

Fifth-grader Payton Chihak makes a moveIn the library, third-grader Delilah Scott played first-grader Adam Chelveny as she munched on dried seaweed. She’s been playing since she was 4, she said. “I’ve known since I was, like, 5,” Adam added.

“My dad tried to teach me but I couldn’t do it, so I joined here,” Delilah explained. “My grandpa has all these chess boards, like one wood one, and one rock one.”

In the art room-turned-intermediate chess practice room, fourth-graders Brecken Grashuis and Avery Leete were playing a good-natured game. Both said they prefer this to screen time.

Parent and parapro Britt O’Malley, who helps lead chess club, shows a new strategy to students in the intermediate practice room“This takes a lot of brainpower,” Avery said. “On a screen you just get zoned out.”

Added Brecken, “And you can grab the pieces with your own hands.”

Problem-Solving Produces Trophies

The Lakeside Elementary chess club has been an ongoing after-school student club since 1987. The 30-year-old club has won championships at state and national levels — an entire case in the school’s hallway overflows with trophies.

Chess club is offered to all Lakeside students. This year the club has 65 participants: 15 kindergarteners, 16 first-graders, eight second-graders, 10 third-graders, 13 fourth-graders and three fifth-graders.

Third-grader Delilah Scott chooses to play chess in style“I love to see the students take an interest in chess and develop problem-solving skills through learning and exploration,” said kindergarten teacher Shannon Mitchell. “It’s especially wonderful to see kids begin to sharpen their strategies and improve the mastery of the game.”

Mitchell said the last two years have seen the largest number of players in the eight years she has led the club.

“It’s just something different and new for a lot of them,” she said. “I also find it’s something their parents or other family members play, so they can do it at home together.”


Basics of chess

Fourth-graders Brecken Grashuis, left, and Avery Lee say they prefer chess to screen time

Students in the Lakeside Elementary clearly have fun as they play

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them.


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