Dear Ms. Yvette Jackson Moyo:
First of all, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking your time to visit our school (Earle STEM Elementary School) and our children. Thank you very much for meeting with me too and our beloved school principal, Mr. Petties.
I have heard many positive feedback from the our students and teachers who saw the movie, Queen of Katwe. Had it not been for you, [Real Men Charities, Inc. and the West of the Ryan Current Magazine team] they would not have seen such an inspiring movie. I am sure many will continue to remember the stimulating lessons the movie had provided to everyone.
Considering the limited number of tickets the school got, other kids have to this day been asking if they can also watch the movie.
We were not able to watch the movie because I brought my students to meet the President last October 7th when the field trip to the movie theater was also scheduled.
But how I wish those who did not get the chance to watch the movie will still be able to.
We got this last-minute call from the White House the day earlier, that we will be able to meet the President in October 7th when he arrives Chicago. So we had to do a last-minute preparation and coordination to get everyone ready for that meeting.
Please allow me to share with you this story that I wrote and the pictures that I took on that occasion.
Thank you, Ms. Moyo, for allowing me to share this story. Thank you for your support to our chess program at Earle. Thank you for your support to our school and to our school principal, Mr. Petties.
Joseph M. Ocol
Math Teacher and Chess Coach
Earle STEM Elementary School
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MEETING THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
Last October 7, at the airport tarmac of O’Hare International Airport, my students and I had the rare opportunity of meeting the President of the United States of America.
It was an experience of a lifetime, something that we will never forget for the rest of our lives.
With the short notice given to us, I was not able to contact the parents of the three other girls, members of the 2016 All-Girls National Elementary School Chess Champion Team. They were already in high school and were no longer with our elementary school.
You see, our school chess team won the national championship last April, and three of the five girls were then 8th graders. They graduated elementary school last June and are now enrolled in their respective high schools.
So when I informed the White House Presidential staff that it was difficult for us to get the parents and the school principals to approve the trip of the three girls at such a short notice, they agreed to my suggestion that I bring the two remaining members of the national champion team and the three youngest members who also competed in the national tournaments last year: a 3rd grader, a 4th grader and a 5th grader.
Everyone was then very excited after receiving the call from the White House; but I knew I had to move fast and call parents to get them to sign the permission slips and to coordinate with the CPS central office for the approval for this trip to the airport. Our school principal, Mr. Petties, always supportive of our kids and our chess program, made sure that everyone will be on time to meet the President the next day.
Parents could not believe it and wanted to come too; my fellow teachers and school administrators could not believe it and asked me if they could also come.
It was relayed, however, that the meeting with the President was strictly only for me and for my five students. It was a humbling feeling to think that no less than the President of the United States wanted to meet me and my students from our school. It was somewhat a dream come true, and I thought I have to meet him for the sake of my students and for the other underprivileged kids who need the motivation to move on in life at Englewood.
So, as instructed, the next day, my students and I went to the place in Chicago where a security check was conducted before we were to board an assigned vehicle (with security convoy) to bring us to the meeting place.
It was on board that vehicle that we found out that we were to meet the President at the airport tarmac after he disembarks from Air Force One.
I never saw the real Air Force One before. Neither did my students. All these years, Air Force One to me was sort of a myth, because I just saw it in the movies and read about it in print.
And here I was, being told that I will be meeting the President up close and personal with Air Force One! OMG!
As we were then brought to the tarmac at a secluded portion of O’Hare International Airport, everyone was very excited.
After a few minutes of our waiting at the tarmac, suddenly out from the sky, Air Force One appeared. Like a shadow, right out from the sky! So sudden, so overpowering, so breathtaking. And yet so quiet.
Unlike other aircraft, Air Force One did not take long to run across the runway. It just landed right then and there. With not even so much a sound.
And Air Force One landed right in front of us!
In a few minutes after landing, the President got out from the door and waved to everyone as he disembarked from Air Force One. Everything just moved in so fast that I was able to take only a few pictures.
As he smiled and shook my hands and those of my students, I just did not have the time to use my cellphone camera to take pictures of that moment and at that moment.
To me and to my students, the feeling was just very overwhelming to be able to get to the President of the most powerful nation up close and personal.
After a few minutes of handshaking and conversing, the President left aboard his Presidential helicopter with his entourage.
One may ask me as to what imprint has that meeting with President left me and the kids.
I believe meeting the President has further motivated me to continue with my chess and math program for the poor and underprivileged kids at my school, in the most challenging area of Chicago, and perhaps in other countries of the world, including the Philippines, in the hope that some of these kids can become chess ambassadors someday to other countries.
To be granted such rare privilege to meet the President of the United States up close and personal is one experience that I will always treasure with my students for the rest of our lives.
Our school (Earle STEM Elementary School) has a population of only less than 500. In fact, our school was the only non-selective school that was in the championship in that national tournament. Earlier we also won the State and CPS trophies, the only all-African-American elementary chess team and the only non-selective school of less than 500 population to be in those tournaments.
We do not have enough funds to compete every other week as other school teams do. But what we lack in resources, we try to make it up in spirit. We have a mentoring program that can empower our kids to mentor other kids instead of our school spending regularly for the services of chess grand masters which other moneyed school have.
Every day, teachers including myself, try our best to touch the lives of our students. When I started the chess club in the school, it was not really intended to win championship trophies, but rather to save lives of kids-- to get them out of the streets, to be in school after school, away from drugs, gangs, guns and violence during the most dangerous time for a kid to be outside the school building.
It breaks my heart to see kids everyday trying to cope with challenges at home, at school and in their community.
How I wish we were given more time with the President so our kids could have explained to him how chess can mold one's mind and inspire one's heart. Because chess is not just a game; it is more than a tool that one can relate about life. Chess is life itself, that can empower others to touch lives of others in order to make this world a better place to live.