Lenoir City Schools was recently awarded a grant that will allow students in kindergarten through sixth grade the opportunity to play chess.

ChessKid, a website that allows youth to play the game online, recently announced Lenoir City Schools was one of six districts in the nation to receive a year’s worth of accounts for each student.

“ChessKid has decided since all the COVID-19, the school closures, one of the big things we’re missing out on is the social aspect of school,” Christina Mullinax, Lenoir City High School teacher and chess coach, said. “Even if we find a way to deliver academic curriculum, the kids get a lot from just interacting with each other. They’re hoping through their online platform they can give schools a way to supplement that. So they offer up membership for their program and six districts in the nation ended up getting the grant, there were a couple categories on size, and we won the smallest district size.”

Mullinax, who helps the elementary and middle school programs, applied for the grant initially because she wanted kids to play the game with others in a safe environment, regardless of skill level, and build relationships.

“There’s a lot of learning that can be done,” she said. “There’s a lot of community that can be built, and I’m spending my summer reaching out to schools who have already implemented this program and some of the other grant recipients from the other districts to talk to them and make sure we’re hitting all our marks and how we can best implement it and what are the best procedures. Is there anything I haven’t thought of we can do with this, and make sure we really get the best and most out of it.”

Mullinax estimates the grant will help about 1,000 students. Hopes are to have the accounts available soon and introduce parents to the program at the beginning of the new school year.

“Like they have a technology class, we’re going to try to work it into there,” Mullinax said. “There’s two bigs things that happen called Hour of Chess. It happens usually in October and February and we’re going to try to do some really big things for that time to really celebrate it. I purchased this chess program for just our chess students for the last three years and it really is a great program. This is going to be the first time that every student has access to it.

“... Really we won’t hit the ground running until kids are a little bit closer to getting started back into school,” she added. “We’ve got access to show them how to get on the program and really start implementing it into the school day.”

Kathryn Swope, Lenoir City Elementary School chess club coach, sees the benefits in allowing students to participate in lessons, videos, puzzles and online chess games.

“Chess offers students a variety of critical thinking skills, as well as learning to follow rules, patience, playing well and fairly against others, problem solving, recognizing patterns and using them strategically,” Swope said. “It teaches them to slow down, look at all the options and think through their choices. I think it is important for students to be able to stop and think about the moves they make and how it will affect the game. That can help them to stop and think of the choices they make in real life.

“I also love how it teaches them patience and how to work well with others even if they lose,” she added. “They learn perseverance to try again and get better at the game so that they can win the next time they play. These are skills they can apply to their own life and to academics.”

Mullinax hopes to continue the accounts after the year.

“One of the big reasons I’m trying to make sure all the kids really get into it, they use it, so that I can show to whoever I need to that this is valuable and that our kids are really benefiting,” she said.