Provided by Prince William County Schools (PWCS)
Nothing is ordinary about Wednesdays at Parkside Middle School ever since Jason Dunn amped up the competition and honed his Chess Club players into a polished and impressive force. An experienced player himself, Dunn is Parkside’s eighth-grade algebra and geometry teacher. He fashioned this chess club after a program he was in during his youth. All participants are ranked based on the games played that week, allowing participants to compete against similarly skilled players.
Now in his third year as sponsor, Jason Dunn has grown the club into a successful and popular program that completed the year undefeated. The club took first place in the end-of-season chess tournament held at Forest Park High School. Students Wyatt Allanson, Cole Garrison, Kyril Schelkunov, and Matthew Sills overcame stiff competition to beat out clubs from Lake Ridge and Saunders Middle Schools.
A Parkside Chess Club Meeting
Attendance at a Parkside club meeting averages about 25-30 students but has been as high as 48. No sign-up is needed. Students who show up in Dunn’s classroom on Wednesdays for the first hour of open play have free entry to come in, watch their peers or professional matches broadcast on the board, get tips from Mr. Dunn, and learn how to play this complicated game of strategy. Regular club members sometimes bring friends and assume responsibility for teaching all newcomers.
Time during the second hour is devoted to ranked games, simulating a real tournament setting, including absolute silence. Monthly tournaments, held through the Prince William Scholastic Chess organization, take place on Saturdays, where the top four students from each school contribute to the team score. Participants play four matches for a total of 16 possible points. Students can also win individual awards.
A Playground for Ideas
Parkside competes in the middle school category. But the top two eighth graders in the club, Matthew Sills and John Hunter, competed in the high school division this year to increase their challenge.
“The club members come for the social experience, but they are learning important life skills when they do,” said Dunn. “Chess is a setting where players must make meaningful decisions in stressful situations. My hope is that the players can take that grace under pressure into the rest of their lives and put it to good use. Chess is unique for the depth of logic and visual reasoning required to play at a high level, and even our most casual club members engage in those skills. Perhaps the most important thing is that our players are learning how to learn – through practice, study, mentorship, and experimentation. Chess is a playground for ideas.”