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Jeff Mann John Galvin Jeff Mann

As Brooklyn Castle’s Popularity Grows, So Do Honors for IS 318

Since its release last year, “Brooklyn Castle,” the acclaimed documentary about the IS 318 chess champions has brought increased recognition to the Walton Street school and inspired partnerships with other schools in the district.

Most recently, on Tuesday, February 19th, in front of a packed Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets honored former student and chess champion Rochelle Ballantyne at center court just before a game. Earlier this month, at a ceremony in Washington DC, Assistant Principal John Galvin received the “Afterschool for All” Champion Award, the highest honor given by the Afterschool Alliance, a national organization that supports afterschool programming. And on January 31st, in his final column before taking an extended break to work on a book, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, wrote “Meet the Champs,” inspired by the film he saw on a flight from Europe.

The school also announced a partnership with the St. Nicks Alliance in which high school students who played chess at 318 teach the game to around 65 students at PS 34, PS 18 and PS 250. Shonda Streete, Deputy Director of Afterschool Programs at St. Nicks, credited the film with inspiring the kids to learn chess. “After seeing the movie, they got really excited to learn more and start competing as soon as possible,” she said. “If you can get kids excited about sitting down and learning, it’s a much easier task.” PS 34 Principal Carmen Asselta agreed. “It challenges [them] to think strategically and logically. And the value of children learning from older students is extremely positive. They are motivated by their teachers.”

Galvin lauded the opportunities created by the partnership. It gives the student-teachers “a chance to give back to the community while teaching a new generation of kids to play chess,” he said. “It’s good for everybody. It’s good for [the elementary school students], because they get a high quality program, and it will help our program because the kids will hopefully want to come to 318 and be a part of our chess team.”

The success of the film has also helped the school battle budget cuts threatening the program that has helped so many students from tough economic backgrounds advance to top schools. After receiving his award in DC, Galvin visited several members of Congress and the Senate to discuss the importance of funding afterschool programs. “We’re in a tough economic environment right now and there are a lot of people who are looking for reasons to cut funding for schools,” he said. “There are a lot of forces in our country that are looking to slash money from every area, but supporting kids in school should be one of the last things that gets cut.”

Fortunately, the success of Brooklyn Castle has led to a public outpour of financial support. “When the movie first came out, there was a bump up in donations,” he said. Since then, a fundraiser organized by Kevin Thompson of ExxonMobil and Gina Argento from Broadway Stages earlier this year helped overcome some of the cuts. Following the Kristof column there was another increase in financial contributions to the school.

Galvin’s current goal is to help leverage IS 318’s success to benefit all local schools, like PS 31, who are fighting to get into the Nationals this year. “We want to call attention to the fact that afterschool programs need to be supported in our own local community,” he said.

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