Every Friday, when other kids race home to start the weekend, around 20 students at Hugo Newman College Preparatory School hunch over chessboards.
Their hard work pays off—last month, 14 students from the West Harlem school’s chess team went to the National Chess Championships in Nashville, Tenn., placing 10th. In 2012, they came in first place.
Despite its success, the program is strapped for cash. Planned Department of Education budget cuts next year will provide less money to chaperones and teachers for extracurricular programs, and the school budget covers none of the expenses for tournaments.
“We’re talking about over $1,000 a kid,” Peter McFarlane, the school’s principal, said. But he is committed to keeping the program alive. “We sent 14 kids to nationals this year, and we want to continue that. This is part of our school. This is what we do.”
In order to raise money, the parent-teacher association started Harlem Flea, a weekly flea market behind the school on 120th Street and Manhattan Avenue.
Nan Mead, an executive member of the PTA and an organizer of the flea market, said the market is “an old idea that’s been resurrected.”
“Anyone who goes to the school who lives within walking distance is here,” Mead said.
The market, which is slated to operate through June, is part of the PTA’s effort to help fund extracurricular activities. Parents are speaking with farmer’s market organizers about the possibility of expanding in the summer.
“We’re looking to give our kids experiences,” McFarlane said. “You have to raise money to do so, because school money doesn’t cover it.”
At a recent Friday practice, team members learned from Ryan Goldenberg, a teacher from Chess-in-the-Schools, a nonprofit that also teaches chess to classes during the school day. Goldenberg, who comes to most of the team’s practices, displayed a game from last year’s National Chess Championship on the board.
“Let’s try to figure out how he can win this game even easier right now,” Goldenberg said. Hands shot up, and kids squirmed in their seats with the answer.
Goldenberg led them through the “nice kingside attack” in the national championship game. White had moved its queen too early, but it had the black knight pinned. In a few moves, the game was over.
“The thing we should learn from this game is how to deal with pins,” Goldenberg said. “Now let’s play some serious games.”
Jhimy Rodriguez, a fourth-grade teacher, started the club in 2005.
“I think that chess teaches valuable lessons for life, thinking skills, and making good choices,” Rodriguez said.
Darrell, 10, has been in the chess club for two years. As he played his games, the other students gathered around, trying to help, giving him the thumbs-up when he made good moves.
The games in competitions are tough, he said, but not any tougher than playing with his friends at Hugo Newman.
“I usually beat them faster,” he said.