Math teacher and Chess Club Coach Joseph Ocol is making a difference for kids at Earle STEM Elementary on Chicago’s South Side. He weathered the opposition to starting a chess club at the school (incredible) and stood up to Karen Lewis and CTU.
Ocol joined Dan & Amy this morning to discuss this matter and the trip to DC for his team for which he is trying to raise an additional $6,000.
Dan & Amy pledged to help and AM 560 listeners have already exceeded that amount. But more money raised means more chess club members can go on the trip. For info on donating click here.
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Dan Proft: Good morning, Dan and Amy, Amy, you remember back in 96’ when I took on IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in that infamous chess match. Amy Jacobson: Oh, that’s right! Dan Proft: I think that was actually Garry Kasparov, but in my dreams… Amy Jacobson: In your dreams. Dan Proft: I was in the Garry Kasparov position. I’m a fan of chess. I don’t get to play very much, but I’ve learned it as a kid. Amy Jacobson: We’re you in Chess Club? Dan Proft: No. Amy Jacobson: Because now that’s the thing. That is the cool thing, to be in chess club. Dan Proft: Well, that’s good, because it teaches you great strategic thinking. Amy Jacobson: My kids go to Chess Camp every summer, for a week. Dan Proft: That’s good. Well, there is a Chicago teacher who’s also a Chess coach at the ORAU Stem Academy. His name is Joseph Ocol, and when the Chicago teachers went on strike for that one day strike back on April 1st, Ocol wasn’t there, he was at school practicing with his chess team. He said in a letter that “I have always promised the kids that I shall try to be with them after school, even if I do not get paid”. And as for his pay on April 1, since he didn’t participate on the strike, he’ll only give it up if the money goes to his chess team and not to the Teachers’ Union, and that’s created a bit of a stir because how dare a Chicago Public School teacher act in the interest of the children rather than the Union, and we’re pleased to be joined by the aforesaid Joseph Ocol, chess coach and teacher at ORAU Stem Academy. Joseph, thanks so much for joining us, appreciate it. Joseph Ocol: Oh, thank you. Good morning, everyone. Dan Proft: Good morning, and so, did I characterize what happened correctly, and if so, where do you stand right now with Karen Lewis and the Chicago’s Teachers’ Union? Joseph Ocol: They sent me a letter, asking me to sign the form that I should give up my April 1st day, or if want to contest it, I should submit a letter and for me to appear before a hearing, this June 6th. Dan Proft: Wait, so you had to submit a letter in order to redirect your pay to April 1st to your chess team, as you so desire. Joseph Ocol: Yeah, it’s a form that I need to authorize the Union to give up my April 1st pay. Dan Proft: What’s the purpose of the hearing? Joseph Ocol: Well, the purpose is, if I want to contest I have to appear before them on June 6th. That would be about 6:15 pm, and I will not be able to go, because it’s a Monday, and again, I promised the kids, after school, I’ll be with them as much as possible, even if I don’t get paid, because it’s something, to me, that I’d like to help the kids, pass the light to these kids. You know, in a word, I would say it’s a challenging area there, so the most challenging time for a kid to be outside a school building is between 3 to 6, and that’s the reason I volunteered myself to be with these kids, to make lives more productive to them. Amy Jacobson: Do your students realize how you’re helping them and what you’ve endured to be there for them after school? Joseph Ocol: Yeah, I’m trying to help them every way I can, simply because chess is not just a game. Chess is about life. This is about saving lives, and that’s the reason, of all the activities, chess will be occupied there, because it’s not only the less expensive activity, it’s the most effective in developing critical thinking skills, strategy/planning skills for the kids; let them be aware that every move that they make, as in life, has a consequence. Dan Proft: And just so we’re clear – a lot of people outside of Chicago won’t know; even people in Chicago, frankly – the ORAU Stem Academy is on the south side of the city. Are most of your students from low income families? Joseph Ocol: Yes, more than 90% of the population in the school belongs to below poverty lines. Dan Proft: 90% below poverty line. And what’s the composition of your chess team, boy, girl, and all that? Joseph Ocol: I have the all girls that’s won the national championship last month, and I also have the combination, boys and girls, and they’re almost 40 members. Dan Proft: Was this the chess team at ORAU Stem Academy, was this a team you started, or have you just built it out? Joseph Ocol: I started it, there was no team before at ORAU, and in September – that’s the month that I joined, last September – I started it. It’s really something about the treatment I also got from certain Union members from day one; there’s another story about this. Amy Jacobson: How have they been bullying you? And they started bullying you, the other teachers before you even skipped out on the April 1st walkout? Joseph Ocol: Yeah, the old timers there, in the school, they seemed not inclined to accept change, and it turned out that I was one of those who was invited to transfer to the school, plus all the new teachers, at day one I already had sense that they did not want to accept those members of the union who are also old timers in the school. They don’t seem inclined to accept newcomers. Dan Proft: Is it just you coming over there? They were not interested in you starting a chess team? Joseph Ocol: Yes, and it’s more about the self invested interest. They don’t want the school to succeed. They don’t want the kids to succeed. Dan Proft: Unbelievable. Joseph Ocol: It’s something like a sort of conspiracy. So I talked with the principle – the principle was the one who invited me – so I said, “I’ll do what I can, even if I don’t get peer support”. I’m not talking about all the members of the faculty there. I’m talking about the old timers there who seem to think that just because they’re union members, they can just bully anybody and just take control of the situation. So we do what we can. Dan Proft: So would you say that the old timers who are opposed to even the formation of a chess team - which is kind of an incredible statement - would you say that they’re just there to buy their time until they get to retirement, that they’re not interested, as you say, in improving the school, improving the product of preparing kids for success in life, the sorts of things that good teachers do? Joseph Ocol: The bottom line really is about the kids, but some people tend to disregard that and they tend to pretend that they’re helping when they’re not. They’re just the vibration of the peer support, the sort of conspiracy to sabotage. So we’re doing what we can, and the bottom line is we’re trying to help the kids. Amy Jacobson: So it’s a huge accomplishment. You have 40 members of the chess team. I know you’re trying to get to Washington DC. How did you get the kids to… Joseph Ocol: Ah, no, there are almost 40 members, but I was planning about 15. Amy Jacobson: That’s great. Joseph Ocol: We will learn whatever funds we have. Dan Proft: This is a tournament in DC that you want to take 15 of the team members to? Joseph Ocol: It’s not a tournament. It’s an opportunity for us to meet the President and Congressman Davis, and there was an invitation from the office of Congressman Davis to meet the champion team, and we thought maybe we could also bring the other members of the team, because there were boys who also won the 5th place in the Nationals. But the girls won the championship. Dan Proft: One year after they started there they’re champions; that’s quite a story. You’re like the Jaime Escalante of chess. Joseph Ocol: I would say the girls did their best and we were just lucky to win, but I’m proud of them because they see chess as hope, an opportunity for them towards life and high school. Dan Proft: Now do you teach them the King’s Indian Defense to open, Mr. Ocol? Joseph Ocol: Yeah. Dan Proft: Thank you very much. Joseph Ocol: There is a number of openings, but I want them to do something just like in life: simplify. You simplify your life, you simplify things and you get a better hold of your life. Dan Proft: Alright, so we’re talking to Joseph Ocol, who’s the teacher and the chess coach of ORAU Stem Academy on the south side of Chicago. So you’re trying to get to DC, you’ve got 15 of your chess team members, the opportunity to see DC, meet politicians and so forth, reward them for their championship quality performances. How much do you need to raise and how much have you raised? Joseph Ocol: We have about – I would say – 4000, as promised by a donor, but for 15 kids we’re trying to raise about 10,000, because we’re also trying to get a chaperone to be with them, because we are required to get chaperones with them, other than myself. Dan Proft: Okay, so here’s what I’m going to do, because this is such a great story, it’s an underreported story, it’s you standing up to the union and other people that are just there collecting a paycheck, and to do what you’ve done on the south side for these kids is so fantastic. I’m going to pledge $3000 for this 6000 that you need and do a dollar for dollar match, essentially for maybe some listeners out there would like to come raise the $6000 dollars that you still need to take your team members to DC, and they can call through (126) 425 0600. And Joseph, we’ll keep you on the line, get your information and I’ll get you a check and then we’ll direct anyone else who wants to participate to help your team get to DC, we’ll direct them your way as well. Joseph Ocol: Thank you very much! I’ll relate that to the kids today. Dan Proft: The only thing you need to tell them is that it was a conservative who came to your defense. No, I’m just kidding. Joseph, thanks so much for joining us, thanks so much for what you’re doing for the kids. We tell so many bad stories about CPS and there are great teachers there, like you, doing amazing things and really opening up doors in children’s lives, for their continued lifelong success, and really respect what you did in standing up to the Union, and respect what you’re doing in advance of children’s futures there on the south side, I appreciate that. Joseph Ocol: Thank you very much, and more power to your legislation. Thank you to your listeners. Dan Proft: Thank you for joining us, and hold on while we’re going to get your full contact information. Thanks, Joseph.