Mayhew participants square off in chess

Khadari and Ryan play chess at the Dover Public Library during a visit with their Mayhew Program outreach worker during the school year. Chess is a big part of the summer at Camp Mayhew on Newfound Lake, and culminates with a “human chess tournament.”

Hoping to take advantage of the resurgent popularity of chess, the New Hampshire Department of Education is pitching a program that will train teachers to use chess concepts to illustrate math and science lessons and help students’ strategic thinking and deductive reasoning.

The Executive Council will be asked today [Wednesday] to approve the $309,000 professional development program called Chess in Schools.

With the popularity last fall of “The Queen’s Gambit,” a television show about a fictional chess champion, chess is having a moment. According to the market research firm NPD, sales of chess sets and chess books jumped in the fall of 2020, after the show arrived on Netflix.

The Department of Education cites the popularity of the TV show in its pitch to the Executive Council, saying “The Queen’s Gambit” has “made chess very popular among our student population.”

The series, which features a lead character struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, was rated TV-MA, “for mature audiences,” by Netflix — “May not be suitable for ages 17 and under.”

The Chess in Schools program has no specific connection to the TV show.

The professional development program would be funded with federal stimulus funds from the COVID-19 relief bill passed in December.

Most of the money was distributed to school districts and charter schools, but state departments of education were allowed to reserve a portion to address learning loss due to the transition to remote learning in March 2020 and sudden shifts between in-person and at-home learning during the pandemic.

New Hampshire’s Department of Education got about $15.6 million from the second stimulus bill, and is awaiting federal approval of another $35 million from the March 2021 stimulus. The $309,000 chess program represents less than 1% of the total intended to address learning loss and student engagement.

The Department of Education did not solicit competitive bids for the program, the explanation to the Executive Council reads, because there is only one provider of professional development for teachers focused on chess — the North Carolina-based nonprofit Chess in Schools.

Neil Dietsch, managing director of Chess in Schools, said the Department of Education approached him about bringing the program to New Hampshire.

“We’ve been around, we’ve done this program before,” he said, including a partnership with Alabama’s Department of Education.

Dietsch pointed to a study conducted by researchers at the Tennessee Technological University that showed that for younger students in particular, exposure to chess and teaching with chess as observed and tested in Alabama schools was associated with improvements in cognitive skills.

If approved, the program would launch in September. The budget presented to the Executive Council does not show how many teachers will be trained, but specifies the cost will include 5,000 chess software licenses for students and teachers.

The program also budgets $43,000 for chess supplies, and $25,000 to market the training to teachers and school districts.

Saturday, September 25, 2021
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