This fall when school began, the Berkeley Chess School reached out to Katia Hazan, Principal of Washington Elementary, and to see if they could host a learning pod. The recently renovated home of the Chess School now had two large open spaces, high speed internet connection, great air ventilation, plenty of chairs and tables, and a playground structure in the back.
The Berkeley Public Schools Fund was contacted about this project and was able to secure donor directed funds to open up a learning pod for 12 students at the Berkeley Chess School.
“A lot of the kids that are here are because they weren’t doing well academically at home, for various reasons; poor internet, crowded houses, or parents are essential workers and can’t watch over them during the day. And we have some students with academic needs that require individual attention,” says Stephen Shaughnessy, Vice President of the Berkeley Chess School.
Students at the learning lab also get additional support from Cal students that have signed up to volunteer through the Berkeley Schools Volunteers program, 1-on-1 reading and math tutors from the district, and from additional staff brought on from the Chess School.
The learning lab is also benefiting students that were struggling socially due to distance learning. With the help of Carolyn Perez, Family Engagement Specialist for BUSD’s Office of Family Engagement and Equity, students in need of social interaction have been placed at the Chess School.
“We are happy to provide this for them. I think it is essential for the student’s well being to interact with other kids,” explains Shaughnessy. “The social component is huge for them, some kids were suffering from depression before coming here. They are very happy now, and they are better here, and their parents are thrilled with how they are doing.”
Because the learning lab is at the Berkeley Chess School, students participating also get to play chess. This simple act has opened up some students world view as they interact with Shaughnessy and other chess enthusiasts.
The Berkeley Chess School Learning Lab exhibits what makes Berkeley special. The convergence of ideas, energies and talents to create a pathway for students to overcome during these tumultuous times is inspiring. Thank you to those that support this initiative and others like it to help students through this challenging year.