History of Progress With Chess

Organizational Background and History

Progress With Chess Founder and Executive Director Mr. Michael Joelson is 58 years old and graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1972. Mr. Joelson has been involved in Cleveland area chess since 1979, when he started as a tournament player at age 25. One year later, he became a tournament director, and has since organized and directed hundreds of state and local tournaments. Mr. Joelson earned the title of a National Master in 1988 and Ohio Chess Champion in 2003, and continues to play competitive chess and participate in the local, state and national chess scene. Mr. Joelson has served as president of the Ohio Chess Association and Ohio Scholastic Chess Association. In 1995, Mr. Joelson began teaching chess in after school programs with a company founded by a Russian family from Mayfield Heights. He became further involved in scholastic chess during this time giving private instruction, and has been the personal coach of ten Ohio Scholastic Champions and one National Scholastic Champion. When the company founders left Cleveland, Mr. Joelson began to devote his full time and energy to developing a chess teaching organization. In 2000, Mr. Joelson founded a non-profit corporation, now called Progress With Chess (formerly Chess For Success), which is primarily involved in providing chess instruction in school settings. Progress with Chess has now initiated chess programs in over 50 Cleveland area schools and recreation centers.

Cleveland Metropolitan Schools Chess Program

Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett was anxious to have a chess program in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) after witnessing the positive results that the New York Chess-In-The-Schools Program had achieved in improving academic performance in one hundred and seventy five New York Schools.

Progress With Chess, Inc., with extensive experience in directing suburban chess programs, had been interested in starting a chess program in the Cleveland Public Schools for many years, but the necessary funding was lacking. In 2001 Frank Sullivan, a chess enthusiast and C.E.O. of R.P.M., Inc., had a chance conversation with Carl Bowers, a Cleveland police detective who is a former scholastic champion from John Adams High School. Detective Bowers was excited by the prospect of having the Progress With Chess Program in the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools and mentioned the possibility to Frank Sullivan, who generously agreed to give us a grant to fund the program, as well as the assistance of his talented staff.

Our program, now under the Department of Student Activities, commenced during the 2001-2002 school year, and has been met with enthusiastic support from administrators, principals, teachers, and students. We have provided instruction to over 500 students each year, introducing chess to most for the first time. Chess instruction now takes place during the regular school day in 7 K-8 schools, once a week, in 3-6 classrooms per school (30 classrooms total) for fifteen weeks.

We plan to expand the CMSD program for the 2013-14 school year to include 14 schools and seven after school programs.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District has supported us by providing funds to purchase the chess sets for all participating schools and covering many of the expenses involved in our year-end Chess Challenge, a tournament and exhibition at the downtown public library for all participating students. Costs they have covered on a yearly basis include transportation, lunches, table rental, trophies, teacher and administrative time.

The Cleveland Public Library has been instrumental in our efforts. For the past twelve years, they have donated the use of their auditorium and an entire floor of the old wing of the downtown library for two days during our Chess Challenge. In addition, they have donated hundreds of hours of staff time to help with planning and conducting this event, which has run smoothly and brought a lot of joy to the participants. The Chess Challenge has brought a lot of positive publicity for the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools, including front page articles and photographs in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Call and Post.

From 2003-2008 Progress With Chess received a grant from the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools 21st Century after school program and provided taught chess in fifteen schools, once a week for twenty four weeks. At the end of the year we directed a tournament attended by over one hundred students each year. Our 21st Century Progress With Chess program was well received by students, teachers, and administrators. Our involvement ended when the funding for this federal program was greatly reduced and the little remaining were resources shifted from enrichment to tutoring.

Our current funders include RPM, Inc., The Cleveland Foundation, The George Gund Foundation, and The United Black Fund. Past supporters have been The Thomas White Foundation, Forest City Enterprises, Key Bank, Nestle Corporation, and Calfee Halter & Griswold LLP.

Additional support for our the program has come from the Cleveland Police Department, which has allowed officers to take time from their busy schedule to play chess with our students at the library Chess Challenge. The Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Union, and The Black Shield, an African-American Patrolmen’s organization, donate scholarship money to the schools with the most trophy winners at the Chess Challenge on a yearly basis.

Suburban Parent Pay Programs

The impetus for a large number of our suburban programs has been provided by parents of children with a serious interest in chess, who have approached the principal at their child’s school and expressed an interest in having us be part of the after school offerings. All of the PWC suburban programs are parent pay, with a few exceptions such as Shaker Hts. High School and Middle School, which are district funded. Most are scheduled immediately after school, one hour per week, for a period of 6-15 weeks. Often a PTA parent volunteer will assist us, to a larger or smaller extent, depending on the person involved and the needs of each school. Responsibilities that they may assume, but are not required by Progress With Chess to initiate a program, include collecting fees from the office, organizing class lists, securing appropriate classrooms, recruiting parent volunteers, helping with sign-out and dismissal, facilitating scholarships for low income students, and interacting with the principal.

These parent pay programs, which include after school programs at schools, recreation centers and enrichment centers, chess camps, chess tournaments, and tournament training classes for more serious players, bring in the majority of the organizational income. Some of the profits from these activities are used to help fund our efforts in low income inner city schools.