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WILMINGTON — As the game came to a close, it became clear that Lynelle Monroe was on the run.
The 10-year-old Edison Charter School student had just a few pieces on the chess board.
Her chess club coach, Nathan Durant, saw a learning opportunity. He flipped the board around, giving her all of his pieces and the potential pathway to success. But he left it to her to take advantage.
“You’ve got all the material to do it,” Durant said. “Now you have to do it. Make it happen.”
“But I don’t have the time,” Lynelle protested, pointing to the clock.
“You’ve got plenty of time,” Durant encouraged. “You have two minutes. And you’ve got the queen. Now, use her.”
Lynelle is part of a new chess team at the school. Last month, the group traveled to the Mid-Atlantic Girls Chess Championships in Baltimore. The Edison girls returned home with five trophies, displayed prominently in the school office.
“I think I am going to keep playing,” said Ny’Jae Boddy, a sixth-grader. “I am working on my skills to beat Dr. EL.”
Salome Thomas-EL is the school’s principal. He made a name working at Philadelphia’s former Robert Vaux Middle School, an inner-city school that averaged two children murdered a year during his decade there.
At Vaux, Thomas-EL started a chess club, the Mighty Bishops, to teach his young students to think critically and resolve conflicts mentally.
His students went on to win recognition as eight-time national chess champions. He also used chess to help motivate them academically and watched his students go on to succeed in high school and college.
When Thomas-EL came to Delaware last year, he promised to start a chess program.
“What I love about it the most is it gives young people a chance to come together over a chess game and communicate in a nonviolent way,” he said. “They come together over a board that might have a player of another race or religion, and they sit across from one another. … They can cross over racial and economic barriers.”
In his efforts to turn around Edison, a city school in a tough neighborhood, Thomas-EL said he’s focused on a new curriculum, teacher recruitment and extended learning opportunities before and after the traditional school day. Chess fits into that mix, too.