Fiona V. Lam
11th Grade
Richard Montgomery High School
Rockville, MD
Grand Prize Winner

    Forming a strategy, weighing the costs and benefits, calculating the risks…. If this sounds like a corporate CEO, it was actually a look into the minds of typical elementary school chess players. I was one of them, just having fun on a typical afternoon like any other kid. Little did I know I was training my brain to think like an entrepreneur. 

    The DC area has the 5th highest concentration of entrepreneurs in the U.S. (“About — DCEW 2011”). It also contains the headquarters of various businesses such as Marriott International, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics, and is the home of the federal government. But how does our next generation transition into the next business leaders, the next politicians, and the next innovators? The stepping stone lies in our Greater Washington schools. Our Greater Washington community depends on our schools to build the next generation. 

    The Greater DC area, however, has a large education gap. It boasts Thomas Jefferson in Virginia, the number one public high school in the nation, yet also has many struggling schools. Imagine closing the gap, bringing each and every child to full potential, empowering all of them to better the lives of every citizen of the Greater Washington community. We often say that there is no magic bullet to this problem, but introducing chess into the curriculum may be the closest thing to a magic bullet. It would integrate fun in a school day, increase students’ attention span, and enhance their analytical skills. Chess in curriculums would foster an innovative and collegiate, yet competitive environment in which everyone can take bold moves without risking life or death. 

    Chess stimulates young minds to innovate like an entrepreneur, empowering the young generation to better the community. Chess programs will go a long way to helping the business community prosper. As an avid chess player since second grade, I have found that chess represents life, fostering innovative and creative thinking in developing minds. Every move is a decision, where we must weigh the cost and the benefit. We are trained to foresee other’s plans and react to them. We must see the big picture and develop strategies accordingly, some of which will succeed, some of which will fail. Every game is a learning experience, forcing us to rebound from our mistakes and adapt our strategies. Chess, I have found, is the world of entrepreneurs and business shrunken into 64 squares. 

    Local governments, local businesses, along with young entrepreneurs, can work towards closing the achievement gap by implementing chess programs woven into the school curriculum. Local governments are essential in this effort. The local governments and schools know how their own school systems work, and how chess can be seamlessly incorporated into the curriculum and programs. Local school systems may have to reshuffle class schedules or extend the school day. Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, for example, already has an eighth-period class built into the school day. Other schools can do the same with the help of school administrators and school system officials. 

    Support and involvement of local businesses and entrepreneurs are just as vital to the success of this effort. During this period of economic severity, it is difficult for local governments to fund a new initiative. We need local businesses and entrepreneurs to pitch in. The Greater Washington business community is a community of entrepreneurs with business experience and success. They can set up an effective non-profit organization to work with the local governments to provide funding, train teachers, and plan supporting activities. It is through their generous devotion of time, money, and encouragement that an environment can be created where the next generation can be empowered and prosper. 

    Entrepreneur is a term often reserved for leaders of for-profit businesses. It really should not be that restrictive. Many non-profit executives are taking financial risk, looking for funding, trying innovative ideas, and maximizing their reach to their customers. They are every bit as entrepreneurial as the executives of for-profit businesses, although they are rewarded mostly, if not only, by the satisfaction for helping other people. Sargent Shriver, the creator of the Peace Corps, the Job Corps, and the Head Start program, created a legacy as powerful as that of Steve Jobs. We will need a team of entrepreneurs to lead this new non-profit organization and turn it into a successful business by establishing a stable source of funding, communicating the benefits of the program to students and parents, and providing the resources needed for chess activities. Young entrepreneurs, who have been able to identify the pulse of today’s young generation, are especially important in this process. They have left school not too long ago, remember the kinds of programs they love in schools, and understand what it takes to stimulate the discouraged and allow undiscovered talents to shine. 

    Incorporating chess into the school day is not without precedents. An elite private school in Bulgaria, which trains and launches elite students into careers in banking, finance and insurance, is recently reported to have made chess a compulsory subject in the school (Impey). We do not even have to look that far away. Some schools in New York City are doing something similar; the schools and their students have dominated national championships in recent years, largely due to the many chess organizations serving the New York public schools. The Chess-in-the-Schools non-profit organization, for example, provides in-school and after-school chess programs, including programs for schools serving low-income populations in New York City. These Chess-in-the-Schools entrepreneurs work with schools to train teachers to incorporate chess effectively into their curriculum (Weiner). Their effort has transformed the lives of both low-income and higher income students, creating a new generation of chess stars. The new chess stars, in turn, have led their teams and encourage other students to excel in creative and entrepreneurial thinking as well. As chess proliferates in New York, each generation of youth are reaching higher levels of chess achievement than the previous generation. 

    The success of young chess players is benefiting our business world today. Robert Hess, for example, is a Grandmaster, the highest position in chess below World Champion. A graduate of Stuyvesant High School in New York City, and soon to attend Yale University, Hess excels in both academics and chess. He interned for a hedge fund, and finds that chess has helped him pursue finance. He comments that finance is “similar to chess, in that success depends on the ability to see the effective move out of a wide range of possibilities” (Novy-Williams). Another chess success is Kenneth Rogoff, professor of Economics at Harvard University, who was also an economist on the International Monetary Fund and Federal Reserve Board. He parallels chess computer technology with economic developments in artificial intelligence (“The Grandmasters”). Chess, through its stimulation of entrepreneurial thinking, has helped many chess players excel in their business community. 

    In the Greater Washington area, we, too, have developing chess talents. Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia has a nationally ranked award-winning chess team, home to some of the best young chess players in the nation. These chess players also excel academically, attending the number-one ranked high school and the best colleges in the country (“Thomas Jefferson High School”). We should not keep this secret to success to a few privileged schools. If chess were incorporated into the school day, into Thomas Jefferson and all other schools in the Greater Washington area, not only would students in Thomas Jefferson get more opportunities to play chess and excel, but students across the DC area will follow in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson students, of Robert Hess, and of Kenneth Rogoff. They will be equipped with the tools to excel in the business community, gaining the inspiration and the power to become the next entrepreneurs. And as the new generation grows with time into the new leaders, they will inspire the next generation to keep improving the quality of life for the citizens of Greater Washington. A small step will take us a long way.... 

Works Cited