Alumni Profiles

The Chess Express
In Belize, Steve Schulten '72 teaches students "the thinking man's game"

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CHECK MATES: Steve Schulten '72 with chess club members at Independence High School in southern Belize, where he promotes the game of chess.

As an elementary school gym teacher, Steve Schulten '72 has spent his career trying to get kids moving. Except when he's in Belize. There, he tries to get them thinking.

Schulten has a love of chess. He shared that love with the children at Little Harbour School in Portsmouth, N.H., for 22 years, and in Belize through the Belize-UNH Teacher Program, which sends teachers to the Central American country during February to learn about the culture and to teach in the schools. Teachers come up with their own projects to share with the students.

For Schulten, that always meant chess. He has spent his last six February vacations with the UNH program in Belize, originally as a volunteer and more recently as a staff member, teaching kids to play what has often been called "the thinking man's game." With the help of the Portsmouth Rotary Club and through his own fundraising efforts, he has been able to give the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation more than 400 chess sets. Schulten has also raised scholarship money for students in Belize who can't afford high school by selling "Mystic Chess Quest," a chess book written and illustrated by Belizean students.

During his second trip, Schulten met Ella Anderson, co-founder of the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation, a nonprofit group that uses chess as a tool to motivate kids and increase their interest in learning. It has more than 50 chess clubs in the country.

"Ella's main thing is to get the kids to play chess; to keep them out of trouble," Schulten says. "It was great to connect with her and get involved. The research on chess shows it's a wonderful thing for kids. More than 30 nations have chess as part of their curriculum at the elementary level."

Chess helps kids develop higher thinking skills, he says. It builds self-esteem, and teaches them patience. "There is a direct correlation between your move and consequences of that move," Schulten says. "That's a valuable thing to learn."

The game also illustrates the sundry opportunities in life. "There are more than 288 billion possible positions after the first four moves," Schulten says. "It's a game that never gets boring." And, he says, it's such an easy way to reach kids. There's nothing to plug in, nothing special to wear, no uniforms required. "I've seen chess change kids' behavior for the better. All it takes is one adult willing to sit down with them."

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