Chess program bridges gap between cops and youth
The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, Saint Louis Public Schools and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department are partnering to launch St. Louis CHESS Cops. The CHESS acronym stands for “Cops Helping Enhance Student Skills.”
The program targets inner-city students and uses St. Louis-area police officers to teach them the game of chess. The officers teach the fundamental elements and educational values of chess and incorporate lessons on critical thinking, planning and logic.
Lt. Perri Johnson of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is one of the eight officers participating in the program. Johnson explained that chess was chosen partly because “it's not physical, and every kid doesn't play physical sports. Chess can incorporate so many other kids and officers than physical sports can.”
The subject matter takes a back seat to the program's true goal: fostering positive relationships between police and the community.
Johnson has been the commander of the Juvenile Division for two years and has worked with kids for over 15 years through the Police Athletic League, the Students Talk Over with Police program and coaching high school basketball. He hopes that more officers pursue community involvement.
“This isn't about me,” Johnson said. “I want others to be exposed to it.” In addition to the eight officers already in the program, there are “another seven or so” that are interested, he said. The more officers that get involved, he said, the greater the opportunity there will be for kids to sit across a chess board from them and “see them for what they really are.”
“We are very pleased to see organizations working to promote programs that actively involve our city's youth,” said Anthony Ruby, network superintendent of Saint Louis Public Schools. “Now, when our students see a police officer, we hope they will see a mentor.”
The St. Louis CHESS COPS program began with a ceremony at Gateway Middle School on February 22. There were representatives from all three organizations present, and the event concluded with chess matches between local students and officers.
Jayson Pulliam, who attends Gateway Middle School, participated in the ceremony along with his fellow chess mates and his father. He remembered the chess games more than his police opponents. “It was great,” Pulliam said. “I liked it a lot. I won some and lost some, but I like getting beat so that I can learn more.”
Pulliam is a great example of the real-world benefits that being in the chess club can offer. “It helps me concentrate more in school and it improved my memory,” Pulliam said. “Before I played chess, I couldn't really remember much when it came to my classes.”
Being in the program already is changing the way that Pulliam looks at police officers. “I think they are better than what people think they are,” Pulliam said. “Just because they are cops doesn't mean they are bad people.”