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October 24th, 2012
11:09 AM ET

Documentary showcases program that transforms underprivileged kids into chess champs

“Brooklyn Castle” follows five members of a chess team at a below-the-poverty-line, inner-city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the country. The I.S. 318 team has won 26 national chess titles and is known around the country as the “Yankees of chess”. The team’s story in “Brooklyn Castle” earned the Audience Award for Best Documentary at SXSW earlier this year and additional top awards at other festivals.

Katie Dellamaggiore is the producer and director of “Brooklyn Castle” and Alexis Paredes is a student featured in the documentary. Both Dellamaggiore and Paredes join Soledad O’Brien on “Starting Point” today to talk discuss their story.

Dellamaggiore, who is from Brooklyn, said she was surprised to learn that I.S. 318 had the best junior high chess team in the nation as school with a high percentage of students from families in poverty.

“I just thought this a story a lot of people probably don’t know about,” Dellamaggiore says. She mentions that I.S. 318 offers a host of other after school beyond the chess program to help the student body. “It just seemed like this was like a little gem of a school,” she says, “and doing unexpected positive things. And I thought this is a positive example of public education that people might wanna hear about.”

Parades is still playing now in high school on arguably the best high school team in NYC and he is also coaching at I.S. 318. He is one of the best chess players in the nation. Parades says chess has helped him do much better at school, but that he sees other kids at his school benefit from activities like art and music just as well. “Just these extra-curricular activities help these kids progress,” Paredes says.

He says chess doesn’t make him a nerd, it makes him cool. The culture at I.S. 318 celebrates chess almost as a sport, and he's proud to be a part of it. CNN Political Analyst Roland Martin puts it best, calling Paredes “a big man on campus.”

“It’s just an amazing feeling to know that you do something that will eventually help you in the future and benefit you,” Paredes says.

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