I had the great pleasure of interviewing Debbie Heiser, a parent at Solomon Schechter School of Queens (SSSQ), to learn more about her and the Chess Club she founded.
Debbie Heiser and her cohort of parents at SSSQ have created an amazing new chess program. The Chess Club combines learning for the kids with a chance for the adults to socialize and get to know each other better. Kudos for creating this innovative, dynamic program.
I also wanted to introduce you to an amazing mom whose love for her kids has taken her on a fascinating journey. Debbie, you are truly an inspiration!
Without further ado, the interview:
Michele Lang: First off, could you tell me a bit about your own history and how you came to choose the Solomon Schecter School of Queens for your children's education?
Debbie Heiser: I am not Jewish. I married Joel Weinberger, a son of holocaust survivors, who attended a conservative Yeshiva through 8th grade. I heard about Solomon Schechter around the time we were thinking of kindergarten six or seven years ago for my now 8 year old.
The area of Queens we live in had a terrific elementary school and about a year before he was slated to enter, they removed the Gifted and Talented Program. My son tested into the GT program and would have needed to be bussed quite a distance to attend the school, which we weren't comfortable doing. So, we looked at private schools and when we saw information for Solomon Schechter I told my husband we should check it out and go to the Open House.
The open house made the decision a no brainer for me when I heard the children are given a dual language curriculum. The children learn about history through the Hebrew curriculum and the class sizes are small.
My husband was stunned that I, the non-Jew in the family, wanted to send our children to a Hebrew Day School. But, it made sense to me. Education was my primary focus and I felt the boys would get a good education and at a better price than the expensive private schools in the area, and the dual curriculum was an added bonus.
My boys are now in 2nd and 3rd grade and they both have a positive, strong sense of being Jewish, they take pride in learning Hebrew, and they are excited about the holidays and having a connection with other children who are Jewish. I've met wonderful parents and have felt like I belong in the school as much as my children. I've never felt like an outsider for not being Jewish.
ML:Please describe your chess club and how it got off the ground.
DH: The Chess Club was started because I couldn't find chess for my boys (who love the game) anywhere in the area. I would host chess play dates, and we even got a few families together to do a chess meet up at a local university so six kids could play together.
That worked well, but I thought it might be nice to take it to a more formal level - getting instruction for the children beyond the parents. So, to take it to the next level, I called a top chess school in NYC to see if we could work something out.
We came up with the plan to start a unique new club in Queens and Long Island that would allow our children to receive instruction from a Grand Master once a month for two hours in a home of one of the parents (we rotate between 4 families - two in Queens and two on Long Island).
The Grand Master comes to the home, the children have instruction and play games, and the parents enjoy two hours of a sort of cocktail party. No need for a baby sitter, and a fun night out for the whole family.
The children each bring their own chess board and receive lessons and play games with the other children. There are ten children ranging in age from 5-11. The idea was to bring parents and children together so it would be a "play date" for both children and adults.
We are mostly SSSQ families, but we have a few families outside the school who have expressed interest, and we now have a waiting list for our second session in January. The cost for the event is far less than any lessons we found anywhere else - group or private - and we have the luxury of having it at the time of our choosing (7-9 pm) and in our own homes.
Michael Propper from ChessNYC was so helpful in making all of this happen. He really worked hard on helping me to iron out pricing, logistics, the ability to create a club so the kids can compete in local tournaments in Queens, and to put a new spin on the idea of chess - making it a social night out!
ML: If another day school was going to create a similar program, what resources are out there to help them? Any online links you can suggest? How would you recommend they get started?
DH: This could be started in another school by contacting a local chess school and asking if they can work out a Club. I would suggest checking http://www.chessnyc.com/ if in the NY tri-state area. Alternatively, you could find a Master or GM in your area and start your own informal club. It would be nice to link them in some way so we can all meet up for own tournaments and meet ups!
Thanks again Debbie!