Each quarter, Project MARS/AmeriCorps collects “Great Stories” from its members in which they reflect on their experiences mentoring in the classroom and the progress they see students making. This month’s story comes from Gerri Winston.
I am serving in a high school media center with students who need to improve their grades and those who take online classes. The first thing I noticed was that morale was lower than I remembered. Some of the students have a hard outer shell and are resistant to any change. Most are frustrated with restrictions imposed due to COVID. Many started the year a couple of weeks late because of being quarantined. I understand the psychological toll that restrictions, lack of in-person socialization, and the sting of losing family have had. High school is hard enough. I think consequences of long-term additional stressors are being demonstrated in negative behavior and lack of confidence.
I brainstormed and prayed about how to provide a positive approach to a solution. What I most enjoy about my service is developing and deepening relationships with students. Looking at school from the lens of the student, I found positive reinforcement could be supplemented. But how? Again, I tried to put myself in their shoes. What can we do that is fun, spontaneous, and educational? If you are thinking “chess is fun and educational,” then you are correct.
I have a book that explains the history of the game, the role and function of each piece, and identifies each player as the “general” of his army. The students took turns reading parts out loud to understand the complexities. This brought many out of their shell. It instilled confidence and gave them something to look forward to. Playing chess has been scientifically proven to increase reading skills, critical thinking, self-control, and planning ahead. Many studies confirm that playing chess improves problem solving abilities, memory, and creativity. It promotes deep concentration and calmness.
So, my niche in the media center allows fun personal interaction while also stimulating neural connections. I have already had students tell me they notice that they think differently. I have noticed improvements in courtesy and confidence as well. After games, regardless of who won or lost, I give feedback. This is my reward as it deepens the relationship and gives much needed individual attention.