SCIENCE AND MATH teacher Jason Bui knew a few years back that he wanted to start an after-school chess club at S. Weir Mitchell Elementary, at 55th Street and Kingsessing Avenue, in Kingsessing.
The pupils who joined the club - which he named the Minor Threats after the early-'80s hard-core punk band Minor Threat - had no idea that chess would have an impact on their minds, their attitudes and their families.
"By the time we were the Minor Threats, I was already seeing an impact," said Bui, 33, who this year moved to Andrew Hamilton Elementary, on Spruce Street near 56th, West Philadelphia. "They are, to put it as some of the chess moms have said, bold in a positive way."
These days, students from various schools meet at the club once a week at the Kingsessing branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, on 51st Street between Kingsessing and Chester avenues.
The results of playing chess have surpassed Bui's expectations, he said: As members participate in more tournaments and travel, they have grown in a variety of ways, Bui and some chess moms say.
They point to members' improved thinking, increased focus, enhanced confidence and mended temperaments. Kids learn how to handle defeat and how to find solutions to problems. Academic performances improve for many, Bui said.
"My experience with Minor Threats helps me with school, makes me focused, makes me better," said Syair Hutson, 10, a fifth-grader at Mitchell Elementary.
Syair, who has been with the club since third grade, said he used to get nervous. His mother, Tenecia Anderson, said he had a "little bit of an anger problem."
These days, "he knows he can get up and walk away," Anderson said. This week, for example, a couple of kids made fun of Syair's hair. An argument or fight would have broken out when he was younger, Anderson said. In this case, Syair walked away, asked to use the bathroom and called his mother from there to talk about the teasing.
"That level of maturity, I respect him for that," she said.
Tonight, a busload of pupils and parents leaves for Columbus, Ohio, and the High School Nationals in chess. A tournament trip might be the first time a student leaves Philadelphia.
Chess is more than a game, said Garetha Hughes, mother of Minor Threats team captain Tahvon Hughes, a sixth-grader at Young Scholars Charter School, on Marshall Street near Poplar, in Northern Liberties. "I never really thought to get him involved in chess. I didn't know how vast it was."
Tahvon, 11, loves to travel. He took his first flight to Dallas with the club, he said. His mother said traveling "has opened his mind. His world is bigger than Southwest Philadelphia."
Now, he's talking about attending college and owning his own basketball team, Hughes said.
Tahvon was shy and kept to himself before chess became his hobby. He described himself as "not the nicest person."
"[Chess] helped me to interact more at school," he said. "I'm still a little to myself, but I'm getting better with it. Chess is helping me more."
Bui has set up a GoFundMe page seeking donations to offset costs. To donate, go to http://www.gofundme.com/dhk8ak.