“Becoming successful at Chess allows you to discover your
own personality. That’s what I want for the kids I teach”
(Saudin Robovic)

Most weekdays, the cafeteria at Hays Magnet Academy looks like the site of a chess tournament with cloth boards on the tables and zipper bags of pieces. Depending on the morning, the room could be populated with Hays students or gifted and talented students from other campuses.

Wednesday found about 60 students from Gonzales and San Jacinto elementary schools in the cafeteria. Starting off sitting in lines on the floor, the students moved to the cafeteria tables where they took up challenges, puzzles and finally games with their peers.

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Scholars in Progress teacher Deborah Johnson, Penny Arnold and Karla Ortiz put the first through fifth-grade students through their paces. The teachers said the game helps students with their math and reading scores, calms them down, helps them focus and think ahead.

“It works like a medication without a medication,” Arnold said, adding school has a lot of youngsters with a lot of energy.

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She noted that older students help the younger ones with the game. Along with chess, the students stay at Hays for the rest of the day for gifted programs before being transported back to their home campuses, Ortiz said.

The Education Foundation in January announced its support of chess within Ector County Independent School District with a $3,000 investment for this year in the Scholars in Progress program, aimed at gifted and talented students.

The investment allows each campus involved in the program to receive $250 a year that may be used to buy replacement chess pieces, new chess boards, timers, or incentives for students, a previous story said.

Arnold said she had never played chess before she went to work at Hays after 25 years of teaching fifth grade at Noel Elementary School, but she’s learning.

“I really never ever thought that I would really enjoy chess. I’m glad I have because it’s definitely challenging and to sit down and play with a third-grader who kicks my butt is something else,” Arnold said.

Kaidyn Flores, an 11-year-old fifth-grader from Gonzales Elementary, has been playing chess since third grade and 11-year-old San Jacinto fifth-grader Mackenzie Gonzalez has played since first grade.

Flores and Gonzalez said they got interested in chess through their teachers and they say it helps them with their school work.

James Skiles, a 10-year-old fourth-grader at San Jacinto, is in his second year of playing chess while Taylor Scheile, a 10-year-old fourth-grader at Gonzales, is in her first.

“We started off playing chess at the beginning of the year and it interested us,” Scheile said.

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Skiles said he likes the game, how it’s played and how the pieces move.

“It helps with math a little … because of the points of the pieces and the strategy of the game,” Scheile said.

The students play chess at home because they’re assigned to play three times a week. Skiles said he has participated in a chess tournament previously.

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“I lasted at least four games,” Skiles said. He added that he was playing against fifth-graders.

A chess tournament is coming up April 2 at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin that the students are preparing for.

Ten-year-old San Jacinto fourth-grader Tamijenay Clay said she has been playing chess since before Christmas. She doesn’t plan to enter the tournament because she doesn’t think she’s good enough yet, but she plays at home.

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What Clay said she likes about the game is “how the pieces can go different ways.”

Johnson said Hays hosts students from Dowling and Blanton on Tuesday and serves Hays students on Thursday and Friday.

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