Jefferson Award Winner Founded Chess ClubBy Allen Martin

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) If life is like chess, Chris Major wants kids to learn the lessons early.

“The job is for me to help them self-manage themselves,” Major explained. “Because ultimately that’s what all of us should be helping children do.”

After retiring as a special education teacher, Major started two non profits: in 2005, The Hayward Youth Academy, and five years later, The Novato Chess Club.

Middle and elementary school students meet with him once a week for an hour. They may arrive thinking their only going to learn chess, but Major says they’re picking up a lot more.

“Focusing, visualization, decision making, critical thinking… those are all developmental things that all young people need to learn as they get older to be successful,” Major said.

The scheme seems to be working.

“Every time we play chess, we learn about, one: each other, two: each other’s strategies and how we think,” explained St. Raphael School 7th grader Ben Southard.

“It just gives me a time to have a thinking moment,” added 2nd grader Kara Kandankulam.

Fourth grader Kelvin Monterroso learned this:

“Think before you do something,” he said. “Since In chess you have to think like ahead — you can’t think behind.”

Major’s programs are funded by donations and grants. He now incorporates a college outreach program as well. Twice a year he takes kids to his alma mater, Saint Mary’s College, to show them college is attainable. And chess, he says, can be the key.

“To critically think, to communicate effectively, and not let external pressures in their lives destroy their opportunities,” he explained.

And if a student doesn’t want to play chess, that’s ok with Major.

“There are times when kids come in and say, ‘Mr. Major I just want to do my homework,'” Major said. “THAT is the victory!”

So for teaching kids to play chess, along with lessons for life, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Chris Major.

  1. Thank you for a perfect reflection of why we do what we do. #Humbled #Moraga #Gaels #Lasallian #Service

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