Unable to find a suitable chess program for her 6-year-old son, Anjelina Belakovskaia took matters into her own hands.
The three-time U.S. women's chess champion launched an academy in the Catalina Foothills where she began to work not only with her own son but with other children as well.
Before launching the program, Belakovskaia wanted to test the waters, so she started a summer session at Mathnasium, 4777 E. Sunrise Drive, Suite 127.
Nearly a dozen children enrolled to learn the game of chess, but little did they know that their instructor intended to teach them about life as well.
"It's about developing strategy, logic, creativity, improving memory and building self-confidence," Belakovskaia said. She knows her program will work, having taught it in New York for five years and being a product of it herself.
"It's a comprehensive program on how to use your brain to its fullest potential," Belakovskaia said. "I teach the kids not to rush decisions - don't look for the most obvious move; look at the different possibilities. The same goes for life - if you do something, what is going to happen afterward, and how will you react to the situation?"
Pleased with how quickly her students were developing, Belakovskaia decided to continue the program and expand it to include three levels - beginner, intermediate and advanced.
One student who will return from the summer session is 7-year-old Trey Allen, who describes himself confidently as a good chess player and says he can beat his mom "very easily."
It has been only two weeks since the summer session ended, but Trey is ready to go back, and he often can be found playing chess on the computer or on his mom's iPhone.
"It's just a fun game where you can make your mind get smarter," said Trey, a second-grader at Ventana Vista Elementary School. "It makes me think. It gives me brain power."
Trey's mother, Bryn Allen, decided to enroll her son in Belakovskaia's class with the goal of helping him develop in the areas of strategic thinking and analysis planning.
She said she has since seen a difference in Trey's decision-making, although she's not sure whether to attribute it to maturation or to the chess academy.
"I did notice this summer that he seems to think further ahead about consequences," Bryn Allen said.
The chess academy, which began Friday, will run for eight weeks at Mathnasium. The cost is $200 per child, with discounts for siblings.
The sessions last an hour and cater to ages 5 through 15. The intermediate class is full with students from the summer session, but there is still room in the beginner and advanced sections, Belakovskaia said.
"I always enjoy seeing the spark of excitement as I watch children's skills and confidence grow," she said. "The system I've created gives kids what they need, when they need it, so they never get overloaded and are always eager to learn."
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175.