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Mechanics’ Institute Youth Outreach Chess Program

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About the Youth Outreach Chess Program

The Mechanics’ Institute chess club has been serving Bay Area chess players since 1854.  The chess rooms in downtown San Francisco host many tournaments, youth chess camps, women’s classes, and beginner classes.  Participants' ages range from 4 years old to 96.

In March 2012 we hired an outreach director, chess grandmaster Nick de Firmian, to expand our program of free chess instruction to kids in schools.  This public service is currently provided to sixteen San Francisco schools/community centers, and we plan to expand to four more Bay Area schools by the end of 2013.

The main focus is on inner-city youth:  the target group that has been shown to significantly benefit from chess classes.  The educational value of this fun way for kids to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills has been confirmed by many studies in the U.S.

Our program includes some children who already know the basics of chess, but many will be starting at the very beginning to learn the rules.  Our chess instructors teach the basics on a large demonstration board in simple child-friendly terms.  Later on, elements of strategy and strategic thinking are introduced with the help of printed chess puzzles and pamphlets.  Classes are usually an hour long and usually held after school on the school campus.

The Youth Outreach program is augmented by the in-house Saturday Beginners Class at the Mechanics' Institute, summer chess camps and many chess tournaments held at our club downtown.

The current program provides classes in the Mission district to Marshall Elementary School, Buena Vista-Horace Mann K-8 school and 7 Teepees Youth Center;  in the Tenderloin to the Tenderloin Elementary School; in Hunter’s Point to Bret Harte Elementary and Malcolm X Elementary Schools; in the Castro to Everett Middle School;  in the Portola district to Alta Vista Elementary; in Potrero Hill to Potrero Hill Neighborhood House: in Glen Park to Glen Park Elementary School; in the Merced district to Lowell High School;  in North Beach to Yick Wo Elementary and Francisco Middle Schools;  in downtown San Francisco to Notre Dame de Victoire Elementary School;  in the Excelsior to Cleveland Elementary; in the Western Addition to Wallenberg High School.  The classes average 15-20 kids for each of the fall and spring semesters, thus currently serving about 500 kids per year. 

Funding for the first year of this program (March 2012-March 2013) was underwritten by the Mechanics' Institute itself with some significant support from several foundations.  To expand the program in this year 2013-2014 and beyond, additional funding is sought from foundations and corporate sources.

Mechanics’ Institute is a member-supported nonprofit Library and Chess Room founded in 1854 to provide educational resources and chess play to the rapidly expanding Gold Rush city.  Today the Mechanics' chess room is world renowned and has become the oldest continuously operating chess room in the United States.  Mechanics’ has a prodigious record of developing young chess talent and is uniquely positioned to provide the proven educational benefits of chess to Bay Area youth. 

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