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Chess Programs For At-risk Youth
& in Juvenile Justice

INITIATIVE THRIVES THANKS TO POLICE PARTNERSHIPS

The National Scholastic Chess Foundation’s community chess programs in South Florida began in October 2014 when a $5,000 Law Enforcement Trust Fund donation from the City of Sunrise Police Department was used to present our Demystifying Chess Workshop for teachers, police and professionals from other organizations working with young people. 

Since that first workshop, NSCF programs have grown to include multiple initiatives serving communities across the region with many focused on reaching at-risk youth and those in the juvenile justice system. The Sunrise Police Department provided donations for several years. Additional funding has been received from the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO), the Broward Sheriff’s Advisory Council (BSAC), the Sheriff’s Foundation of Broward County, and the Broward Education Foundation.

CHESS PROGRAMS FOR AT-RISK YOUTH

TRAINING OFFICERS TO USE CHESS FOR COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

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Several of our Demystifying Chess Workshops have been produced primarily for law enforcement officers, including one hosted at the African American Research Library & Cultural Center, and one held at the Sunrise Public Safety Building. From this effort we have trained over 50 police officers and deputies from Broward Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Sunrise, Fort Lauderdale, Lauderhill, and Miami Beach police departments. These officers engage with the broader community, with a special focus on reaching young people. 

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For example, BSO Deputies have added chess to the Police Athletic League programs in Deerfield Beach and West Park. In Deerfield Beach, chess has also been included in activities for the BSO Explorers, a youth program for teens who may consider a career in law enforcement. BSO Explorers and deputies, and Sunrise officers, often attend Mayors’ Chess Challenge events in other cities.

In Sunrise, the chess playing officers will stop in and play at our “chess tent” during open air concerts and community festivals. Officers will also stop in at scholastic chess tournaments to play a few games before formal competition begins. The NSCF often sets up a chess tent at police community events, including the department’s annual block party, pop-up barbecues, and the National Night Out celebration. In summer, bicycle patrol officers have even given out travel chess sets to children.

CHESS PROGRAMS FOR AT-RISK YOUTH

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In an effort to serve at-risk young people, the NSCF introduced community-based chess instruction in “high-needs” areas of Broward County. The goal is to teach critical thinking skills and appropriate social behavior, and help children develop the confidence that they have the intellectual capacity to do great things in life. In addition to lessons directed by our NSCF instructors, our chess-playing police officers will frequently drop by to play a few games and talk with the students.

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Funding from police departments has helped the NSCF produce free scholastic tournaments. One tournament was even held at the Sunrise Police Department. These fun events give our students a chance to put their chess knowledge to the test, and to meet other aspiring chess players from across the region. Our chess-playing officers will come by to show their support and to play the students between rounds. 

YOUNG OFFENDERS PROGRAMS

The third focus area is working with young people already involved in the juvenile justice system. According to Florida Policy Institute, “on average, 70 to 80 percent of incarcerated youth are rearrested within three years, often committing worse crimes.” Most will be rearrested within one year. If we want to make a difference in the lives of these young people, and lower crime rates overall, funding interventions that equip young people to make better decisions is certainly a positive investment. The NSCF believes chess can be one of these interventions. Programming started in the Juvenile Detention Center with a teacher who had completed our Demystifying Chess Workshops. It then expanded to the NSCF sending our mentoring director into the detention center on a weekly basis. After proving the concept, the NSCF began sending chess teachers into treatment centers where young men are remanded for a minimum 9-month program. The majority of these young men had little or no experience with chess. Many have embraced the game, not only playing in their class time but also in their out-of-school time.
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Some of the students have been able to participate in inter-facility chess tournaments. In addition to showing interest and proficiency in chess, eligible students must be performing well in their general classes and not have received any disciplinary actions. 

At a tournament hosted by Pompano Youth Treatment Center (PYTC), visitors included the Mayor of Pompano Beach, Rex Hardin; the Mayor of Sunrise, Michael Ryan; and the NSCF’s Executive Director Sunil Weeramantry. They were able to play some games with students. One young man shared that being sent to PYTC was the best thing that ever happened to him and that, in chess, he finally found something he could be good at.

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In addition to working with students who have been jailed, the NSCF also teaches students who are on probation or in alternative-to-incarceration programs. One initiative has been in partnership with AMI Kids, an alternative school that offers counseling and job training in addition to academics. The NSCF provided an instructor/mentor to teach a class during the school day, then facilitate an after-school program called “Say It With Ya’ Chess.”

The NSCF trained AMI’s Executive Director and three AMI students who became peer-mentors. Training was also provided to two Fort Lauderdale Police Officers who would come to play chess and talk about career and life skills one evening each week.

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If you are interested in bringing high-quality chess instruction to your school, please contact us by email: classes@nscfchess.org or telephone: (914) 683-5322.

WHAT OUR PARTNERS ARE SAYING

“The Sunrise Center for Excellence in Chess and NSCF have been invaluable community outreach partners for the Sunrise Police Department. These past six years, our officers have been able to play with and speak to countless children and adults during open matches, tournaments and community events. We have developed meaningful conversations and long-lasting relationships because of the NSCF’s work.

Chess is a game where sound decision-making, forward thinking and sacrifices are necessary. The same is true in everyday life. We are proud and honored to have collaborated with Sunil, Robert and their team and look forward to many more years of enriching community engagement through the lessons of the great game of Chess.”

– Chief Anthony Rosa, The City of Sunrise Police Department

“This letter is intended as a letter of reference for the National Scholastic Chess Foundation. I have had the privilege to work with Mr. McLellan and Mr. Goldthorpe for the past three years. As the Supplemental Services Coordinator for both Broward Youth Treatment Center and Pompano Youth Treatment Center (residential commitment facilities for males ages 13-18), I have witnessed first-hand what a top rate chess program Mr. McLellan and Mr. Goldthorpe operate.

The chess program has introduced and exposed many of the youths to the game of chess for the very first time. More than likely, the youths would not have had this opportunity to learn the game if it were not for the National Scholastic Chess Foundation. In addition to imparting the concepts and rules of chess, Mr. Goldthorpe has taught youths cognitive reasoning, logic, strategic thinking, and sportsmanship. These qualities have helped the youths in their other academic subjects and are important traits to possess in a complex information age that requires critical thinking. Mr. Goldthorpe is always very patient and supportive with the youths he interacts with.

The National Scholastic Chess Foundation is a vital component of our comprehensive educational program to meet the diverse academic, social/emotional, and recreational needs of our youths. They have demonstrated a commitment to serve challenging youths in difficult circumstances. In my professional judgement, the National Scholastic Chess Foundation would be an asset to any organization that would utilize their services.”

– Michael Lyons, Academic Team Leader/Supplemental Service Coordinator, Broward Youth and Pompano Youth Treatment Centers