Four years ago, Douglass K-8 Optional School in Memphis languished in the bottom 5 percent for performance in the state of Tennessee. This past year, it was named a Reward School, which puts it in the top 25 percent. So, how did they turn things around? The school officials and students interviewed for this inspirational video believe the improvement can be attributed to the game of chess.

“I knew our kids could always compete with anybody if they were given an opportunity,” says principal Lionel Cable. “It was a challenge. Let’s see if we can make chess a part of our curriculum. Let’s make every child in the building take chess from pre-k to eighth grade. Well, we did it as an experiment and it just caught fire.”

The chess team at Douglass Optional has been transformative in more ways than just elevated performance numbers. According to Laketa Smith, whose son Ricky is on the team, the game has changed his approach to every day life.

“Chess has taught him to slow down. To think before he acts and to see a possible problem before it happens,” Smith says.

Ricky agrees with his mother, saying, “I’m gonna keep playing chess because it’s going to keep building me and making me better as a person.”

Recently, the school chess team had a chance to compete in the Girls National Chess Championship where student Aleha Cole placed second.

These kinds of results are not surprising to chess teacher Dr. Jeff Burlington.

“I think that people everywhere are smart enough to become quite good at anything if they’re given an opportunity to,” he says. “It’s more a matter of providing opportunities.”

Those opportunities are provided more and more with the help of corporate sponsors like Georgia-Pacific, which supports the Douglass Optional chess team as part of its continued support of organizations that align with the company’s focus areas of education, entrepreneurship, environment and enrichment of the community.

Watch the video to learn more and find out how to support Douglass K-8 Optional School by calling Bridgette Simmons at 901-416-7086.

Learn more about Georgia-Pacific at

Students put poor performance scores in check
Find out how the game of chess elevated a Memphis, Tenn., elementary school from being one of the state’s lowest performers to one of its highest.