A Principled Chess Coach says, "I Choose to Stay"

No one had to tell Salome Thomas-EL the importance of  education.  When one is raised in Philadelphia's public housing projects, things take on more of a stark reality. These experiences have apparently shaped the character of Thomas-EL, Principal at Reynolds Elementary and innovative chess coach.

Salome-EL coached at the perennial chess power
Roberts Vaux Middle School. In the 80s, Philadelphia's Vaux was a chess power that helped to produce the youngest Black master in history in NM Howard Daniels (15 years, 4 months). The program faltered only to be rejuvenated by Thomas-EL, and thereafter became nationally acclaimed after winning a National Chess Championship!

Salome Thomas-EL

Salome Thomas-EL

"Armed only with a chess board and a profound belief in their potential, Thomas-EL's faith and commitment has motivated hundreds of children in Philadelphia to attend magnet high schools, then going on to major colleges and universities."

Thomas-EL spurned a $20,000 raise in 1997 and decided to stay at Vaux as a show of commitment to his students in the "inner city." "I can't leave my students," he said. "What happens if they come in on Monday and I'm not here? They'll say 'He left because of the money', and I don't want them to think that way. I'm the only male role model these kids have. I want them to know at least one black male who is committed to stay."

His website promotes his book project titled, "I Choose to Stay: A Teacher's Fight for America's Inner City Schools." It's a book recounting his experiences of teaching with specific emphasis on the chess program at Vaux. According to the website, the book is  "is moving and full of hope, and proves beyond a doubt that a commitment to teaching in the public schools can result in excellence, and success for those children most of society has abandoned."

Editor's Note: Salome Thomas-EL is a doctoral candidate at Lehigh University and the book is scheduled to be released by Kensington Publishing later in the year. Check out his site, www.ichoosetostay.com.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 27 February 2002