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Ben Milam has sent a team to the National Scholastic Chess Championship for four consecutive years, placed fifth as a team this past year and developed students equipped with problem solving skills along the way.

“Academic activities like chess build our students into leaders,” said Jesse Saldivar, assistant principal at Wilson Elementary and former Ben Milam Elementary chess team coach. “It helps prepare them for life by priming their thought process to make better choices. We saw the successes of our students in the classroom and home environment.”

Before now, students on the Ben Milam chess team, as well as the Sam Houston Elementary team, would compete at state and national tournaments, but would not have the opportunity to compete with a high school team. At the same time, students at other schools didn’t have the opportunity to participate in chess as an enrichment program.

But that’s about to change.

The initiative is called The Competitive Edge, said Santiago Villanueva, director for advanced academic services. The idea is to align academic competition throughout a student’s primary and secondary education by implementing district wide academic programs and competition regulations.

“Across the board most of the academic competitions take place at the secondary level, particularly University Interscholastic League (UIL),” Villanueva said. “At the elementary level we’ve had similar competitions, but not fully aligned with UIL and consequently we are going to begin holding elementary academic competitions at the UIL regulation level.”

In addition to elementary competitions held at UIL regulation, HCISD’s Advanced Academic Services staff are looking into adding a chess program to the district’s elementary and middle schools.

“With the addition of these academically focused programs it will help us meet our ultimate goal as educators to help our students succeed, and cultivate leadership skills that will make them college ready,” Saldivar said.

The goal of the initiative is to further provide students with the means for success in secondary competitions and education by providing consistency through competition.

“Consistency will help our students get into the rigor and will prompt our students for success in secondary academic competitions and overall academic achievement.” said Lori Romero, executive director for school leadership. “We want to keep them better prepared and wanting to participate.”

This will be the first year for Competitive Edge, and its initial event will take place take place this spring. Fifth grade students will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of competitions at a UIL regulation modeled event called A+ Academics. Events include art, music memory, ready writing, oral reading, spelling and listening.

“We hope to have our academic coaches for our chess and A+ Academics programs selected and training by the end of September with our students beginning to prepare soon after,” said Villanueva.

Competitive Edge looks to continue training coaches and students for the following year, add more academic programs to the HCISD campuses and to expand the A+ Academics competition to additional elementary grade levels, Villanueva said.

“Our students are always the focus in these academic programs and we look forward to seeing their success in the coming year,” Villanueva said.

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