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Teacher Creates Opportunity for Students, Brings Back ‘Social’ Element to Chess

A love for the game of chess has provided Paul Reece with years of enjoyment and competition, but what he’s giving the scholars of South Arbor Charter Academy will provide a lasting impact that will live on for decades.
An avid player while growing up, Reece, a sixth-grade teacher at South Arbor, competed in scholastic chess tournaments, but didn’t have a chess club to join at his school. His goal was to ensure that wasn’t the case for his students.

Teacher talking to students
South Arbor Sixth-Grade Teacher Paul Reece addresses the chess players.
“It’s important for me that I can use chess as a way of building a social environment for people,” Reece said. “When I played a lot of chess at group tournaments, it felt like something more than just an individual game. I know that sometimes we're being solitary and quiet, but in reality, chess has a tradition of being very social.

Students playing chess
South Arbor students play chess together.
“Part of the reason why I push it is I see a generation of people that are always playing video games or online or maybe are a bit socially awkward, but to have a place where you can be face to face with somebody and play something in person, it's pretty amazing.”
The club is in its third year and is made up of mostly fifth through eighth graders, but younger siblings are also invited to stay and play. They meet on Fridays after school, a time when Reece noticed there were no scheduled activities for the gym/cafeteria. Throughout the week, he also holds more grade-specific meetings, where children can play and practice age- and skill-appropriate moves together. He consistently has around 100 kids who participate throughout the week. This type of dedication by students is just one reason South Arbor continues to outperform the local district in all subjects.

Students playing chess
South Arbor students play chess together.

“My goal is for a lot of other NHA schools to have clubs. Part of what I like about it is, with so many other extracurriculars, you can only incorporate five to 10 people, like basketball or other sports. With chess, we’re only limited to available space and how many boards and pieces we have.”
Away from school, Reece runs chess tournaments, where teams and individuals pay to compete. That side business has helped supply him with a growing number of boards (currently at 50 and growing) he uses with the club members.

Students pose with trophies
South Arbor Sixth-Grade Teacher Paul Reece addresses the chess players.

Reece has found the game helps bring balance to his students, especially those who struggle with staying focused and having too much energy.
“One of the biggest things in learning to play chess is not looking at the first thing you see, but analyzing and getting kids where they have to pause and really look through all their options and make a decision. You find that a lot of kids that are really high energy, this just really helps them learn and being able to hone that energy toward something specific helps foster that concentration and discipline.”

The club has garnered so much interest, Reece found the need to recruit help from other staff members. Kindergarten Teacher Cindy Oswalt is helping with the kindergarten and first grade chess club, while Art Teacher Amanda Nicastro is helping with the second and third graders. Third Grade teacher Jennie Benesh is helping with the fourth and fifth graders, while Sixth Grade Teacher Nate Walker and Special Education Paraprofessional Holly Smith are helping with the sixth through eighth graders.
Congratulations on the great success of your club, Mr. Reece!
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About South Arbor Charter Academy
South Arbor Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Ypsilanti, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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