Students learn about life and chess at free Youth Bureau program

About a dozen students listened intently as Jareb Gleckel explained the differences between pawns, rooks and bishops. The co-owner of Hamptons Chess Club, Mr. Gleckel described how to skillfully move the pieces across the chessboard.

The students had the opportunity to participate in a different kind of summer activity this year: Chess Club.

The Southampton Youth Bureau is hosting the free chess program at the Flanders Community Center every Wednesday through Aug. 30.

“I thought this was a great program for the youth in the community,” said Marylin Banks-Winter, who brought her 6-year-old granddaughter, Bella, for last Wednesday’s session. “Her mother played chess, the whole family plays chess, so it’s a traditional thing that gets passed down.”

At Hamptons Chess Club, Mr. Gleckel offers year-round classes, competitions, events and summer camps along with co-owner Russ Mackofsky. Mr. Mackofsky used to teach at the Flanders location as well.

“It’s a really nice game for a lot of these kids, because it gives them a chance to feel good about themselves,” Mr. Gleckel said. “And a chance to learn something that’s different and to feel accomplished without being stuck in the classroom setting. They’re having fun at the same time.”

Mr. Gleckel said the Flanders group is unique because students of all skill levels come to learn, so the classes often combine first-timers and advanced students.

“We get so many kids who say, ‘I’m not a good student. I’m not smart enough to play chess,’ ” he said. “And then when you break it down for them, they start to realize it’s something they can do. It’s such a nice balance in their lives.”

The program is for students in kindergarten and up, although its attracts mostly younger students, said Avenue Smith, 16, who has been working with the community center’s chess program since October.

“Personally, it’s really nice to see the kids grow and learn,” Avenue said. “I love working with them.”

After putting new players and experienced players into separate groups, Mr. Gleckel starts with a simple question: “How many squares are on the chessboard?” He gets answers ranging from eight to 64, showing how he works with kids from all different skill levels at once.

“It gives kids this confidence to be like ‘I can do this. Maybe I can do better in school. Maybe I can go back and apply myself in other areas,’ ” Mr. Gleckel said. “At least that’s why I do it. That’s what’s most exciting about it for me.”

Hilary Rose of Hampton Bays brings her son, Harry, who is about to begin first grade, to keep his mind busy over the summer.

“It’s a great brain-based summer activity,” Ms. Rose said. “He’s very interested in board games lately and I was told this program was fantastic.”

This is the first time the program has been open year-round, so even after the summer session is over, children in the area will still have a place to go to learn chess.

“It gives kids a chance to think logically or creatively without the pressure of school,” Mr. Gleckel said.

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