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  • rebeccafab

Let them be Kings and Queens, November 20, 2013

I just showed the documentary Brooklyn Castle to my Youth Work 101 class as an example of what Positive Youth Development looks like ‘in action’. “BROOKLYN CASTLE tells the stories of five members of the 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 film follows the challenges these kids face in their personal lives as well as on the chessboard, and is as much about the sting of their losses as it is about the anticipation of their victories.” (from the website)

What I love about this movie and why I show it in my class, is because it really provides concrete examples of some of the key elements of Positive Youth Development. We see evidence of:

1. Positive relationships between adults and youth, and youth and their peers;

2. Clear, fair & high expectations; and

3. Opportunities for kids to connect, navigate and be productive.

In this movie the adults say exactly the right thing every time! They know when to push and when to step back. They create “teachable moments” throughout the movie. Now, you could attribute that to excellent editing on the part of the filmmakers, but I have to believe the adults were 100% authentic. There is evidence throughout the movie that the school culture is about creating these very moments and developing positive relationships between adults and students.

The other thing is that kids say the right thing every time. Over and over again, you see them rooting for each other, even when faced with having to compete against each other. This happens when adults create emotionally safe spaces for kids and model how to interact in positive, supportive way, and then expect them to be able to do it.

Throughout the movie there are examples of kids participating in challenging and engaging activities that stretch youth beyond their current skills, gives them a sense of mastery and is based on their interests. There are opportunities for leadership and REAL adult-youth partnerships, especially when the ENTIRE schools takes on the New York City government to try to stop the budget cuts to their school.

Kids in this movie grow and thrive right before our very eyes because the adults place high expectations on them and provide opportunities for them to succeed. The teachers use chess as a teaching tool about making creative choices to solve problems, being persistent, and trying again when they fail. The chess coach asks them to replay the match with her when they lose so she can have the student talk through why they lost AND talk through what they should do next time if in the same situation. This moment teaches discipline in a way that is respectful and helpful.

Even with all of that, what is important for my students to see in this movie are (real!) kids of color, who come from families & communities with limited resources who succeed in school. Who enjoy going to school. And who are proud to be smart. The kids support and encourage each other to reach for academic greatness. There is no teasing for playing chess or being smart. Again, you could contribute this to editing work of the film, but I think what we are seeing are examples of a popular Positive Youth Development framework called the 40 Developmental Assets. “The Developmental Assets, [which] identifies a set of skills, experiences, relationships, and behaviors that enable young people to develop into successful and contributing adults.” ( You can easily see evidence of at least 20 developmental assets represented in this film!

I strongly recommend seeing this film. Watch it with other adults who do, or who want to develop the following things for kids:

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