The chess geeks at most schools might occupy the bottom rung of the social ladder, but at Brooklyn’s I.S. 318 — which holds more national chess titles than any junior high in the country — “the geeks are the athletes,” says Assistant Principal John Galvin.
With a majority of its students living below the poverty level, I.S. 318 has developed a unique formula for achievement that relies heavily on afterschool programming to keep kids engaged. While the school’s trophy case is a testament to that formula’s success, the charismatic stars of the documentary Brooklyn Castle — including Rochelle, who at just 13 years old is within reach of becoming the world’s first female African-American chess master — reveal the less obvious benefits and hardships of such a program, which challenges students not just intellectually but also emotionally as they juggle school and family pressures, as well as their commitment to winning.
Set against a backdrop of deep budget cuts and high-stakes testing, this story makes an eloquent plea for the crucial but endangered role of afterschool programs in public education.