After much anticipation, I finally had a chance to watch “Brooklyn Castle”, the documentary of a Title I New York Public School’s chess program. The movie had a special appeal to me as I just started teaching at Title I public charter school this year. After coaching and directing the sports program at my previous school, I was struggling to find a way to get connected with students outside the classroom.
Upon the recommendation of my dad, who sent me a link for the trailer of Brooklyn Castle, I thought I’d try and start a chess program. Having no more than recreational experience, I found out that this would be as great a challenge for me as it would be for students learning the game.
Well, enough of my sob story and back to the review…
As expected, the film focuses on several key members of the Brooklyn I.S 318 chess team and their accomplishments and challenges in life and how chess can be used to open doors and learn life lessons. Even though it was pretty predictable what the story lines would be, it’s hard to be bored or disappointed with the stories…I mean, how often do you see Public Title I school kids go out and crush other schools in chess?
As a teacher, I especially enjoyed the story lines of the I.S 318 staff and their dedication to their students. Although it is hard to really see what school life is like through a documentary, it appears that even though 318 is a title I school, there is a great environment there where kids want to succeed. It’s inspiring to see that a Title I school could make these accomplishments and serves as a motivation to me to go above and beyond.
The movie is more than just a chess movie; it demonstrates how important goals and extracurricular programs are for schools. While I see many students at our school who are still looking for their goal or passion, I have seen some students make positive changes with not only the addition of the chess program, but some of the other programs that are starting to appear now.
As seen in the chess program, success can be contagious; especially for middle school kids who are all about following each other. I’m hoping chess breeds a culture of motivation to succeed. I’m starting to see some baby steps. I’m noticing an enhanced level of concentration of Friday tournament game days. The addition of keeping a club ladder has brought a level of competitiveness that I like.
After watching the film, two words sum up my goal of taking a team to the USCF Nationals next year here in San Diego… REALITY CHECK! These kids from 318 (and other schools) meant business. If we want to get there, there is a lot of work to do.