Thanks to a number of extracurricular clubs, elementary school kids in the Kingston City School District are getting the chance to engage in some of their favorite activities with fellow students.
An hour before the beginning of school on Friday mornings, a loose collective of young chess enthusiasts make their way into the library at Chambers Elementary School. They aren’t there for extra credit, or to fulfill a course requirement. They’re there because they enjoy the complexities of chess, spending time with friends and exercising their minds before the first bell rings.
“It’s fun,” said Justin Hasbrouck, an 8-year-old third-grader at Chambers playing chess for the first time this year. “Sometimes you can play for a long time. And you don’t have to pay.”
Eight tables of boards are set up at Chambers, just one of four elementary schools and two middle schools in the district that have recreational chess clubs spearheaded by retired physics teacher Ken Evans.
Evans, who also helps with chess clubs in the Pine Plains School District and is the interim coach of the Marist Chess Team, said exposure to the game at such an early age is a good thing. He added that he didn’t come to chess himself until much later.
“They’re still learning the basics,” Evans said. “And there are still more girls playing at this level than when they move on.”
Evans said that the clubs are good for kids socially, and that chess in particular will help with the students’ deductive reasoning in other areas of life.
“By the time they get to high school, they’re learning the tactics of the game,” he said. “Here, they’re just making moves. But it starts them early, and some of them will continue to play as they get older.”
Evans sat across from different students during the club’s most recent meeting, playing the game with them while offering advice on how to look at the board, or the way the game is unfolding. For some, like an Edson student who plays for the Kingston High team, chess comes naturally. For others, it takes time to navigate. At Chambers, none of that matters, as the students look intently at the board between moves, plotting their next turn toward victory.
Cole Elmendorf, an 8-year-old third-grader at Chambers, said the game took some time to sink in. But now that it has, he’s grown to love it.
“It was a little hard learning, but I got used to it,” he said. “You can face off with your friends. It’s a lot of fun.”
Most schools in the district offer a wide array of club options for kids, including foreign languages, arts & crafts, nature and music. At Chambers, students can join the service learning club, where they pick different focuses and work within the community.
Chambers also has the Bluebird Nature Club, which maintains the school’s gardens, its composting area and its rain barrel, which is used to water the plants. Students take leftover fruits and vegetables out to the composting bin after lunch periods and join with parents to water the school’s plants on a weekly basis. The club also recently held a fried green tomato party.
Chambers Principal Stacia Felicello said clubs are a vital part of what makes the school such a special place for its students.
“They find community and they really enjoy it,” she said. “One boy was upset about trees being torn down for a development, and he got in touch with (Ulster Town Supervisor) Nick Woerner to do something about it. It shows them that they can do anything.”
As with most clubs in the district, whether they focus on gardening or Legos, the participation is often a healthy mix of boys and girls, and sees kids making friends with others outside of their grade. According to Superintendent Gerard Gretzinger, that’s a very good thing.
“I think it’s extremely important,” he said. “What we need to do is offer as many opportunities for kids as possible to take part in activities before or after school where they get to enjoy different opportunities with other students, not only their own age, but other kids in the school.”
Gretzinger said it was important not only to reach students who already have an interest in a particular club-based activity, but also those who might not yet have exposure to those interests.
“If it’s something that we can offer them that they could become interested in, that’s a good thing,” he said. “Maybe we can spark their interest in something they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives.”