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Rochelle Ballantyne is Kicking Some Serious Chess Behind, But She Couldn’t Do It Without the Help of After-School Programs

Have you seen Brooklyn Castle yet? If not, head out and see it ASAP. It’s an incredibly uplifting story of the chess team at I.S. 318 in Brooklyn, New York – a team that started in the 1990s and, 20 years later, is one of the most feared teams in the world of competitive chess.

The movie tells the stories of five members of the team, against the back story of a year in the life of the team amidst continual budget cuts to New York City schools. The film depicts how the cutbacks affect kids -- not only on the chess team, but throughout the school. It’ll inspire you and make you walk through Chinatown at 10 PM on a Friday ranting about the importance of extracurricular activities.

Chess has helped all of the kids whose stories are told in the film in different ways. One student credits chess for keeping him out of trouble and off the streets. Another uses chess to learn how to conquer his ADHD. The parents are grateful for all the opportunities that their children receive from chess – the drive to get better grades and get into better high schools and colleges, the opportunity to travel, and not to mention the impressive scholarship opportunities available to those who excel tremendously at chess and win competitions.

The only girl featured in the movie, Rochelle Ballantyne, is well on her way to becoming the first African-American female chess master. She wants to go to University of Pennsylvania or Stanford, and she credits chess for helping her in school, college applications, and a general drive to push herself harder.

The teachers and administration are clearly dedicated to making sure that students are engaged in extracurriculars and use them to help reach their full potential. One teacher talks about how chess helps kids learn about the world at large – that things aren’t always black and white. She notes how all these programs help kids focus their extra energy into productive activities – instead of on the street.

The importance of these programs cannot be overstated for families with single mothers.

Some quick stats from National Women’s Law Center analysis:

  • The typical single mother working outside the home had a family income of $30,298 in 2010; and 30% of single mothers working outside the home had family incomes below $20,000.
  • More than half of all poor children live in single-mother families. More than four in five poor single-parent families were headed by women.
  • Over 16 million children lived in poverty in 2011, close to half of whom lived in extreme poverty.
  • More than half of all poor children (58.0 percent) lived in families headed by women.

With the help of extracurricular activities, these children and families can begin to lift themselves out of poverty. Rochelle earned a free ride to college at a Texas state school through a competition, something her mother would never have been able to afford. Chess has helped these kids lift themselves out of the problems that so many children in poverty find themselves. In the film, Pobo credits chess for the success he has had both on the team and being elected president of the school.

Funding for education is so important not only for what goes on during the school day, but for what happens once that final bell rings. The importance of funding for extracurriculars is something that we shouldn’t lose sight of when we talk about cuts to education and school budgets.

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