Chess for Pittsburgh Youth

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Pittsburgh, Pa.
(412) 422-1770

Objective: Use chess to help youth improve their thinking, analytical abilities and grades.

In a Nutshell: Jerry Meyers, a chess master and scholastic director of the Pittsburgh Chess Club, brings chess classes to children in the Pittsburgh School District and offers chess tournaments at schools and libraries. “Chess is more than just about learning how the pieces move and learning tactics,” Meyers says. “It’s also about learning how to think.”

Where and When: Meyers started teaching classes in September 1993, and held his first big chess tournament in June 1994. Today, Chess for Pittsburgh Youth (CPY) operates in 30 Pittsburgh public schools and in dozens of other private and public schools in Western Pennsylvania. Classes run from September to December and from January to May. Each class meets for an hour each week for six weeks, either during or after school.

Who Started/Runs It: Meyers founded CPY, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The organization now has three other full-time chess teachers; others teach occasionally. A single teacher is assigned to a specific school for the duration of the six-week class.

Obstacles: Recognition within schools and availability of facilities. “Word of mouth played its role” in the growth of CPY, Meyers says. “There were different people observing the program and [they] saw that there was a fairly high level of satisfaction on the part of parents and the children. The schools became aware that the program was popular with the families,” which made school officials more willing to be involved.

Cost: $60,000 per year, half of which is paid by The Grable Foundation, The Heinz Endowments and The Buhl Foundation’s Frick Educational Fund. The other half comes from fees paid by the schools. Other main funding sources have included the PNC Foundation and the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Foundation.

Youth Served: The program is open to youth in grades K through 12. Meyers says most participants are in elementary school and most are boys. The demographic backgrounds of the children vary greatly among the schools. CPY offers at least one class per week for advanced students, in which some adults also participate.

Youth Turn-On: Kids like that they can be independent thinkers and creative problem-solvers, and that chess exercises their imaginations.

Youth Turn-Off: “There are some kids who grasp chess quickly and others who may have to work more at it,” Meyers says.

“One thing chess tries to curb in kids is impulsivity. Chess tries to encourage them to be a little more thoughtful before they act. Some kids take a rearrangement of attitude to make that change, and … some of them might not want to take that time.”

What Still Gets in the Way: Meyers says he is still trying to get the school district of Pittsburgh to take a bigger role in promoting chess in the classroom. “We reach a lot of kids but there are a lot more who could benefit if we had the opportunity,” he says.

Research Shows: CPY has not been evaluated, but studies have shown that well-run chess programs appear to spur improvements on standardized tests in reading and math, and improvements on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal. (See The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores: District Nine Chess Program Second Year Report, The American Chess Foundation 1992, and The Case for Chess as a Tool to Develop Our Children’s Minds, University of Sydney 2000.)