Local leaders take time to bond with Soledad youth

Michael Handley (left) and Soledad Police Chief Eric Sills (middle) play chess with local students. Below, Community Chess Nights see support from the local police department and bring youth out for a safe and fun evening. (Contributed Photos)

School district introduces Community Chess Nights

SOLEDAD — Soledad students are learning about reversing negative self-talk and goal setting through a chess program, bringing together community leaders and local youth.

Community Chess Nights are based on an idea developed by Michael Handley, founder of New Wave Programs LLC. Handley’s educational curriculum was bought by the Soledad Unified School District (SUSD) after-school programs to teach students about social-emotional intelligence through chess.

“Upon the completion of the curriculum at each location, I worked with Erin Ramirez of SUSD to help organize the Community Chess Nights and to round up community figures to come bond with the students,” Handley said.

The program started during the previous school year with two school sites and has expanded to all the schools this year. Six chess events have been held for the current school year and two more are planned for May 15 at Main Street Middle School and May 16 at Frank Ledesma Elementary.

“Six chess nights for this year have reached about 180 students in Soledad,” Handley stated. “We’ve reached 28 locations and over 600 students this year, mostly in Monterey County and the surrounding areas.”

Handley also participates in the chess matches along with the community leaders. He reached out to Soledad Police Chief Eric Sills this past spring who brought along police officers to spend time with the students.

“I thought it was a great idea and we participated last year and again this year,” Sills said. “I have had approximately eight officers participate in the program over the past year. A lot of it depends upon their availability and which shift they are working.”

Each student who participated in the Community Chess Nights were given a tournament quality chess set and carrying bag to keep.

Handley is anticipating the curriculum to be in more than 100 locations for the 2019-20 school year and was contacted by the California Expanded Learning Division to present the program to regional directors in June.

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