Making the right moves: Chess builds confidence in Fortis students

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April 5, 2022 by HCDE-Texas

For students recovering from alcohol and substance abuse at Harris County Department of Education’s Fortis Academy, the life skills learned through chess translate from the chessboard to the real world.

Students from Fortis Academy, Highpoint East, ABS East and ABS West participate in the 5th Annual HCDE Chess Tournament at ABS West, April 1, 2022.

“Chess is the game of life,” said coach James Hudson from Perfect TeamPlay, an instructional nonprofit chess organization. “Decision-making, time [management], attention, patience, and strategy. Those are four skills that it takes to be a good chess player, but more importantly, those are skills to be successful in life.”

Fifty-five students from ABS East, ABS West, Highpoint School, Fortis Academy, and guest school Kingdom Preparatory Academy met for HCDE’s fifth annual chess tournament last week after receiving instruction from Coach Hudson, teachers, and administrators at their schools.  

View the full photo gallery here.

“This program is just another example of what HCDE wants to do for the most at-risk students in the county,” said Assistant Superintendent for Academic Support Services Jonathan Parker. “It’s to provide opportunities. That might be contrary to some people’s beliefs about students that get in trouble. But we think that there’s a reason why students get in trouble, and we think programs like this can help them from making those kinds of decisions.”

Rebeca Santiesteban, a junior from Spring ISD’s Wunsche Sr. High School, started learning the game at Fortis only three short months ago. She currently plays on the intermediate level.

“Chess has shown me that I can be good at something,” Santiesteban said. “It also gives me something to do because sometimes things aren’t so good at home, so I play chess. That takes my mind off of it.”

Besides building math skills and critical thinking, chess can improve cognitive skills like memory, concentration, problem-solving and spatial reasoning. On a social-emotional level, chess can build self-confidence and self-worth, discipline, patience, respect, and the relationship between cause and consequence.

ABS West Principal Victor Keys and Coach James Hudson pose for a photo during the 5th Annual HCDE Chess Tournament at ABS West, April 1, 2022.

Coach Hudson acknowledges that chess can offer singular lessons in rising above for the student population that Fortis serves.

“They come from where I come from and how I was raised in the inner city. I can relate to a lot of things that they are going through,” he said. “It touches my heart and makes me want to teach them more using the game of chess. It’s chess, but it’s much, much more than that.”

Hudson believes that with discipline and practice, Santiesteban can go far.

“She has the ability to be an advanced chess player,” said Hudson. “After I taught her the fundamentals, she made some moves that you just don’t normally make at her level. She can go as far as she wants.”

However, Santiesteban believes she can go far because she has someone who believes in her.

“[Coach Hudson] made me feel like I could accomplish something,” she said. “Sometimes people don’t tell me that. [His confidence in me] makes me feel good about myself. It makes me want to get better. So, I just want to thank him. I appreciate him for that.”

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