Top Chess Team Has Kids Clamoring for School With Longest Waitlist

By Katie Honan on May 28, 2014 6:38am 

 Sixteen students traveled to Dallas for the chess nationals, placing second.
Sixteen students traveled to Dallas for the chess nationals, placing second.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

CORONA — The elementary school with the longest kindergarten waiting list in the city has kids jockeying for spots in part because its award-winning chess team just placed second in the nation.

Each of the more than 900 students enrolled at P.S. 307, the Pioneer Academy, learns the game as part of the school's curriculum — and the best 20 kids join the chess team, which has placed in three of the past four years they've competed nationally.

At the United States Chess Federation's national championships in Dallas on May 11, the students beat out nearly every top school in the country, and grabbed second place as an unranked team. They also came in second in this year's Mayor's Cup.

The success is one of the reasons the school, at 40-20 100th St., wound up having the longest kindergarten waitlist in the city for the second year in a row, according to the parent coordinator.

The waitlist, with 126 students, is more than three times as long as at other Queens schools, officials said. There were 907 kids enrolled this school year and around 50 in kindergarten.

"It's the new school on the block, and a lot of people want to get in," said Maria Caraballo, the parent coordinator of the school, which opened in 2008 to help alleviate the district's overcrowdingThe school, with grades K-5, will graduate its first class in June.

"We expose our scholars to new things. We offer a lot and that's why we are where we are."

Chess was built into the curriculum from the start as a way to teach logic and concentration to students, according to Principal Cecilia Jackson, who has been at the zoned school since it opened.

"It's a constant competition with yourself," she said. "You can set your own personal goals."

Social studies teacher Ryan Elem has been involved with the program since its inception, along with Christian Whitted from New York Chess & Games, who brought his program to the school when it opened.

Whitted notes that the game is a great equalizer — which is important as the students, many who've never spent much time beyond Corona, compete against students from across the country.

"It's not about them being an adult, or a boy or girl, or their race or social status — it's really about the quality of the ideas and how well they can execute them," he said.

The skills they learn from chess translate into their other work, Elem said.

"There are some students who just blow me away with the things they come up with," he said. "I try to use that as a motivating factor."

Chess player Emanuel Hernandez, 10, has excelled at Pioneer.

"It helps me focus, and I'm more confident," he said. He ranked 10th nationally for unrated players and said his goal is to keep improving.

"I want to be a better chess player," he said. "I want to keep winning."

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