Salem students turn to chess as a new pandemic-era club activity

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SALEM, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The absence of sports during COVID-19 hits hard in small, rural schools like Salem Washington Academy, with fewer clubs and activities for the student body. Tech teacher Todd DeSoto has turned to the game of chess as a way to give those students something social and engaging – whether they’re at school or at home.

The Salem Washington Academy chess club is only weeks old, and already has 18 members from grades 6 to 12. DeSoto says some of those students are the ones who would otherwise be getting involved in school sports teams, which are currently on pause as Washington County stands by its “no for now” verdict on winter sports.

Students have been playing remotely on ChessKids.com, a website specifically designed for young chess players. DeSoto creates and moderates student accounts, which have limited communication with each other using pre-written messages.

Recently, DeSoto added four chess boards to his classroom for the days when club members are learning in the building. Students play while socially distanced after washing hands, and the teacher said that doing so has brought them closer together still.

DeSoto hopes to connect with other school districts in the future, to engage in some inter-school competition.

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