Chess website banned in schools

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Chess has been around since the 16th century and has recently started moving online. Teenagers today enjoy playing a digital version of the game in school. (AP News)

Use of the viral website Chess.com in classrooms has caused some school district administrators to ban the site, online users say.

The website Chess.com was launched in May of 2007 by Erik Allebest and Jay Severson, two friends and former BYU students who set out to create a better way to play chess online. Home to more than 10 million chess games every day and employing 650 team members from around the world, Chess.com is the number one chess-playing site on the web. 

The virtual chess game made its way from the home computer to the classroom when pandemic restrictions were lifted and kids started going back to school. Playing the game in schools particularly has caused administrators to take action to ensure focus in the classroom. 

According to administrators, some Utah districts have banned the website in schools altogether in order to ensure focus in school. Others allow use of the game with limitations.

“Chess.com is available on a limited basis. We don’t want it to be a distraction, but it is available on a limited basis,” Sandra Riesgraf, director of communications at Jordan School District says.

Districts such as Iron County block “non-educational games” in general from student access, including Chess.com, according to Shauna Lund, communications and foundation coordinator of Iron County School District.

“Chess.com would be one of many classified as games that are blocked to ensure students focus and are learning during the school day,” Lund said.

Other districts, however, have reported no notable issues with the site and have not blocked it on school computers. Kirsten Stewart of the Canyons School District Office of Public Communications said teachers monitoring internet use in the classroom is sufficient regulation and they are content to see kids participating in the stimulating activity, on a regulated basis. 

“Cell phones can be a distraction in the classroom, but our schools and teachers are empowered to set boundaries on the use of cell phones in class … we have no complaints about Chess.com,” Stewart says.

According to Stewart, Canyons School District contains a nationally ranked chess champion in their school, a senior at Alta High School who recently won on a state level and regularly participates in esports chess tournaments.

Research indicates that using chess in the classroom proves to be more of a learning tool than a distraction. The use of chess in an educational setting can be beneficial for a student’s academic success.

A five-year study conducted in Alabama found that chess can improve students’ classroom performance when teachers incorporate chess instruction into their curriculum.

The majority of teachers who participated in the study reported that, with chess instruction, their students got better at problem solving, strategic thinking, decision making and critical thinking. They also reported that students who participated in chess learning activities expressed more interest in school. This data proved that using chess in school rather than banning it can lead to increased focus and learning when used correctly.

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