Six High School Students in ESOL Program Challenge White House Aides in Chess -- and Win

April 22, 1999
A group of White House senior aides recently found themselves on the losing end of an international event.

Six Montgomery Blair High School students, primarily ESOL students from countries around the globe, bested the aides in 15 of 16 chess matches, played in the Old Executive Building. The students are part of the award-winning Chess for Success/It's Your Move program, created by ESOL counselor Fernando Moreno, to link guidance and counseling strategies to the game of chess for Blair cluster ESOL students and for students who live near the Long Branch Recreation Center in Silver Spring.

In addition to gaining a sweet sense of victory, the students learned about the work of the aides at the nation's most famous address. The staffers introduced themselves and described their jobs at the White House. Some of the aides worked with the chief of staff, and several others worked in the Intergovernmental Affairs office.

The match came about after Moreno suggested the idea to Bill White, special assistant to the president.

The contest was designed to expose students to positive role-models and inspire them to set high goals for themselves, a goal that was "definitely accomplished," Moreno says. "On the way back, some of the students were asking questions about how they could enroll in Advanced Placement courses, and saying that one day, they could work in the White House, too."

The six participating students were: Camilo Torres, Mathew Harding, Ngan Nguyen, Roy Pena, Binh Tran and Bladimir Castillo. They were accompanied to the White House by Moreno and Lurdes Ceide, a counselor at Blair.

Moreno developed and implemented the Chess for Success program in three county secondary schools in 1995 with a $500 grant from the MCPS Educational Foundation, Inc. The program, which has since expanded to the entire Blair cluster, uses chess as a vehicle to enhance the development of healthy, capable and successful students. The program also serves the language minority population living in housing near the Long Branch center, a predominantly low-income, minority and immigrant population with a disproportionate level of at-risk behavior.

"Chess is ideal for teaching all of us that although we come from various backgrounds and speak different languages, our minds can work in similar ways when trying to reach a goal," Moreno says. "Developing one's mind to make decisions, see alternatives and think ahead are universal processes that can lead to success and avoid involvement in situations that decrease our chances for a healthy and fulfilling future."

In 1996, the Chess for Success program won a national award from the Chess in Education Committee of the U.S. Chess Federation.

More recently, Moreno was invited to give a presentation on his program to educators at a symposium at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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