By Isabel Povey, Summer Times Staff Writer

Dozens of students from both the Access and Upper School programs united over their love of chess for their last time on Wednesday before Exeter Summer comes to its end. Chess club came to be after a friendly game in the Wetherell Dining Hall. The club quickly became a big hit, but advisors Peter Rachofsky and Davidson Joseph still have higher hopes. “My goal is to fill up this entire quad with chess players,” said Mr. Joseph. “At least by next summer.” 

Not every player who attends the chess club every Monday and Wednesday are masters. Alex Kuo, 15, of Boston, has never played before, but she was encouraged by her friend to try it out and play a round this past Monday. “It’s not something I would ever imagine myself doing,” said Alex. “I was surprised that I actually enjoyed it. Once you figure out what you’re doing, it can be really fun.” 

Students and teachers alike, of all backgrounds and levels of chess experience, joined together as one over the celebration of the game. Advisor and master chess player, Mr. Rachofsky, believes the benefits of chess go far beyond simple fun and competition. “Playing chess benefits kids more than they know,” he said. “I think kids in particular, inhabit a world of constant distraction and hyper-stimulation. Chess requires total focus. If you get distracted, you lose. As a result, chess forces kids to slow down and think deeply, and increase a rare skill, and pleasure, for today’s young people. Chess also does wonders for students’ analysis and decision making skills.” 

Mr. Joseph has a little bit less experience but just as much passion, and says chess was always an outlet for him. He said although his childhood struggles prevented him from exploring the game, he was fortunate to discover it in college, just in time to escape increasing academic stress. “I was always so stressed out with having to adjust, having to do finals and complete term papers, I needed a medium and a stress buffer,” Mr. Joseph said. “So therefore, I began to play chess. I was never really, really good at playing, but it gave me a sense of serenity and peace.”

Mr. Joseph says he believes that “if you have passion and drive for something, anything is possible.” Chess is not his only passion, as he is also the founder of a program called Investment Club, which is dedicated to providing the opportunity to an equal education to all students in New York and encouraging financial skills in youth of all economic backgrounds. 

His inspiration for this club was sparked by a 13-year-old boy whom he trained while working at a prestigious gym. The boy, Benjamin, always gave Mr. Joseph a hard time, refusing to work out simply because he was constantly on his cell phone. One evening, the boy was screaming about all the money he’d made in just two days. “When Benjamin explained the concept of trading currency, I was shocked and astonished that a young teen knew so much about a concept that appeared so foreign and unknown to the status quo. I was baffled even more to realize that Benjamin made it a hobby to trade over $50k within a given week,” Mr. Joseph said. “I then realized Benjamin has exposure to a different type of education…I knew at some given point that someone invested some time and effort in Benjamin. And I wondered to myself why this type of education disseminated in my neighborhood, Harlem.”

Mr. Joseph says he believes the current education system fails to effectively address the social and basic survival needs of an individual who comes from an impoverished neighborhood. Today, he is proud to have overcome and accomplished his adversities and lives proudly as an educator and advocate for the marginalized. “That’s why I decided to invest twelve years teaching at Promise Academy of the Harlem Children’s Zone,” he said.

That thought branched into his idea to address the issue he thought to be so critical in the success of New York’s diverse youth. In the Investment Club, students are exposed to not only the necessary math skills, but also the crucial life lessons of budgeting, entrepreneurship, marketing, banking, investment equities and derivatives, compound interest rate and simple interest rate, and other useful number experiences. 

It is clear to see that between encouraging youth financial engagement across New York through Investment Club, or unifying Exeter Summer over the benefits of chess, Mr. Joseph is making a difference in the lives of many.