Bishops and pawns flew across the cafeteria on Tuesday at Glen Springs Elementary School as around 400 K-5th grade students participated in the 2022 Chess Challenge.
Over the past six weeks, members of the Alachua County Scholastic Chess Association have given lessons to the elementary students, introducing them to the game. The Chess Challenge culminates that training and allows the students to take on the teachers.
Volunteers from the chess club, college students and other district students faced three Glen Springs students at the same time on tables set up throughout the cafeteria.
Renaud Lajoie, a chess challenger, said he worried he’d get beaten by a chess prodigy, but so far, all the students had still been working to grasp the fundamentals: control the center, develop pieces and king safety.
“With kids, they enjoy chess—the fun aspects of it—but the seriousness of developing the pieces may start to sound academic and like work,” Lajoie said.
The Chess Challenge also pitted kindergarteners against fifth graders, and Lajoie said those games gave the older students an opportunity to work on leadership skills as they talked through the games with the younger students.
After the games, each student also received their own tournament-style chess board and pieces.
The Chess Challenge visits a different Alachua County district school each year—although the program paused for 2020 and 2021.
The challenge doesn’t return to the same school until a new set of students is in place.
Ricky Bell, principal at Glen Springs, said the school has been abuzz with chess over the past month as the lessons have continued. He said the program was supposed to come to Glen Springs in 2020.
“Some kids are going to love it, some kids might not take to it but all of the kids are learning it, and I think that’s what’s great,” Bell said.
He said the school has missed these kinds of programs over the past two years and that events like the chess challenge stick with students to become favorite memories.