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Lake Forest Elementary checks in for the Chess Challenge

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Hours of instruction at Lake Forest has prepared elementary students for this day: The Chess Challenge.

“Our students are great at learning and moving around, but tying chess into the academics helps them bring the energy and channel it in and focus on the game, which helps them academically as well,” said Marjory Francois, Lake Forest assistant principal.

Students look forward to a day of competition, but advisors focus on the many life skills chess provides, such as planning ahead, problem solving and making decisions.

“It’s been proven that the game can aid students in learning fundamentals and helps in various different types of logic and concentration,” said Robert Kaplan-Stein, Gainesville Chess Club director. “So teaching chess to children has a lot of fundamental benefits.”

In the 20 year span of this Chess Challenge, over 10 thousand boards have been given to kids in Alachua county.

The Chess Challenge is more than just competing against classmates.

“That one boy, he was good at it, and he was younger than me, he was 8 years old,” said Emily Dasiova, a fifth grader at Lake Forest.

“I’m a 3-time national champion in chess,” said 8-year-old Erick Zhao.

This challenge brings nationally ranked challengers. Some of whom continually come back to make sure this game lives on.

“I remember being one of the smallest challengers, to now being the oldest,” said Cindy Jie, Florida state champion and senior at Bucholtz High School.

Intense competition such as this teaches the kids sportsmanship.

“Sportsmanship causes how you’re feeling and your feeling causes how you play chess,” Zhao said.

These players say chess builds character, no matter their abilities. That’s something they can carry with them for the rest of their life.

“Learning how to communicate with these little kids and seeing them grow and being able to help our next generation is a great opportunity,” Jie said. “It makes me feel grateful.”

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