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Life Lessons from Chess

By Richard Tan, National Chess Master

Having mastered the game of chess over 6 years of playing in tournaments, I can now understand the profound impact it has had on my life and my thinking. I started out like every other chess player, thinking it was just a fun hobby and I would just be playing during my free weekends. Eventually, the player has an obsession with the game. One feels the need to dedicate their time at perfection. The game taught me many important lessons about concentration, calculation, and discipline. 

Concentration is a necessity of playing chess, a skill learned through the desire to win. A player cannot advance beyond the beginner level if they only look at the present and do not consider future decisions when they are making a move. The same is true for life: short term pleasures must always be subordinate to long term success if a person is to be happy. Like many kids in elementary school I was very energetic, often finding difficulty in keeping quiet and sitting still during class. Chess was a major breakthrough for me. At tournaments, my desire to win occupied my mind to such an extent, that I was able to sit still for many hours at a time. The chess player is absorbed by the game. Similar to sleeping, a game may take up to 8 hours yet feel like it was only 1 hour. This concentration that I learned subconsciously has helped me since in my regular life when focus is a necessity, particularly during test taking. 

Calculation is another skill learned by chess players. Any tournament level player must see at least 2 or 3 moves in advance anytime they make a move in the present. The moves made earlier will affect the decisions made later, and good decisions made earlier in the game helps decisions later in the game. The exact same statement could be made for decisions made in life. A thinking person cannot simply wade through life on their first desire or whim they feel will make them happy. They must consider logic and consequences at all time with no exception. 

Discipline is another necessity both on and off the board. Tournament play is 10% of the time that occupies a player’s time. Practice and preparation for perfection is the precursor for success at the board. A player that does not study how to play well, does not go over their past mistakes, does not examine what good players do compared to weaker players, will not do well in tournaments. Dedication to training well is a skill often learned through failure. Many times I have skipped studying chess and my results at tournaments have reflected accordingly. Same goes with life: if you fail to practice, success will appear as an impossible goal. Frustration is an experience every chess player will inevitably face. Failure to perform well drags the player’s mind into their darkest thoughts. Personally, I have seriously thought about quitting chess twice before becoming a master. Proper practice and preparation have a direct correlation with playing well, and this realization comes to every person, chess player or not. Growth comes out of this frustration, and the mind can transcend the suffering to perform better. 

There are many difficult aspects about being a chess player: pain and loss are an inevitable consequence of play. But if the young player is willing to learn from their mistakes, they will have achieved a skill that is necessary in life at an earlier stage. They will be mentally and psychologically, miles above their peers.However, there are also many glorious aspects about being a chess player. Me and many of my friends can tell about the overwhelming number of trophies we have. I have more than 30 personally and the mantle above the fireplace has been stuffed with trophies for a long time. Many tournaments also have money prizes, some even going up to thousands of dollars, an exciting prospect for a pre-adolescent person. I have made so many friends at tournaments and memories too. The beauty of the game, the pains, the gains, the losses, the wins, the darkness, the glory, and much more have taught me an incredible amount of how to live and be happy. The game will be a part of me for the rest of my life, and I hope you are willing to play and experience the same love for the game I have experienced.

Mr. Tan instructs all The Cathay School After School chess classes.

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Full STEAM Ahead

Throughout the past few years we have been touting the importance of STEAM education. No, we aren’t talking about the substance you see coming from a hot shower; we’re talking about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math education, an approach to learning that emphasizes inquiry building, project based learning, and use of multiple intelligences.

Most people know what STEM stands for–Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math–as these subjects are crucial to today’s schools curricula as the world sees more new and exciting innovations every day. Schools and educators alike champion STEM programs in part because the US is falling behind other countries in these areas, and it’s clear we need to start with our young people to catch up to the rest of the world. While there are many benefits to STEM programs, STEAM is on the rise. As we continue to recognize the importance of arts for children, both in and outside the classroom, we’ve seen the idea of STEAM gain in popularity…and for good reason.

While STEM is based in practical, logic-based subjects, STEAM would introduce a more creative aspect to the regimen. Not only would this appeal to and challenge a wider range of students, but studies have found that “half brain” education (classes that only target either right-brained or left-brained individuals) leaves students at a disadvantage. By adding art in the mix we are not just encouraging students to think outside of the box we are creating boxes and then telling students to think outside of those and challenging children to be fearless, restless and visionary.

The early years are such a critical period for knowledge and character acquisition. Why not start children at a young age with this cross curricular model? If you are looking for places and activities that will help broaden your child’s horizons and round out their skills, you can start by joining The Cathay School and AdventureMomsDC at Full STEAM Ahead , a fun and creative exploration of the world around us for children (ages 2 – 5 years) and families!

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My Summer Trip to Liberia

With the support of The Cathay School and the hard work of fundraising events led by the SAMS Jr. Leader Club, SAMS Family Foundation raised over $1000 for the purchase of supplies and equipment for the expansion of STEM curriculum at Sherman Adams Sr. Memorial School, located in Duazon, Liberia.

Kristin Zhu, a member of the SAMS Jr. Leader Club, accompanied her mother this summer to visit the school, teach classes, and distribute the equipment purchased from fundraising.

By Kristin Zhu, sibling of our camper & partner for Cathay’s Connected World

After over 16 hours of flight over the Atlantic and Europe, on July 15th, 2018, my mother and I finally arrived in Monrovia, Liberia. Although the flight and security checks were tedious, we were welcomed with comforting smiles and hugs by our amazing hostess, Mrs. Kate Adams.

I started to learn about the school when my mother first mentioned it at home. She told me of how Dr. and Mrs. Adams returned to Liberia and founded the SAMS school in Duazon Township, Liberia to address the need for primary education and learning opportunities in the area. Knowing the necessity of a primary education, I became interested in doing something to help the school and its students. I recruited students and organized several fund-raising events. After communicating with Mrs. Adams, we decided to help strengthen the school’s STEM program by building a lab dedicated to science. We collected books and monetary donations, purchased STEM books, ordered lab equipment and downloaded school curriculum.

Although it took us three months to prepare the materials and curriculum for the week, nothing could’ve prepared me for the wonderful welcome from the staff and students. Even though it was their summer break in a rain swept season, the students came to class everyday with an eager and focused passion to learn new knowledge. Their enthusiasm to learn Math, Art, Music, Biology, Astronomy, and Geology blew me away. Even though they didn’t have WiFi and numerous other ammenities, the staff still tried their hardest to help me with presentations and aided me during my teaching sessions. Throughout the week, I learned new songs, new teaching methods, and even new shoe making methods! The kindness of the local populace along with the lovely environment the school had provided made this trip a truly remarkable experience.

The hardest part of the trip was saying goodbye. The students and the staff had also prepared an incredible farewell ceremony. While hugging the students, teachers, and staff, I couldn’t help but remember the beautiful experiences we had. We sang together, laughed together, and we learned together. Knowing now of the incredible work of Mrs. Adams in the face of such unfavorable situations, I am inspired now to take more action on my own. In the next year, I will look forward to recruiting more students as advocates and volunteers for the SAMS school, creating new programs to assist students in need, fundraising even more to help the school provide for its students, and hopefully return to Liberia to teach the phenomenal students again.

This post was originally created for The SAMS Family Foundation

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Social Justice Has Major Benefits

The three core aims of Washington Cathay Future Center (WCFC) are to cultivate students’ artistic expression, intellectual development, and leadership potential. We feel that one of the BEST ways to contribute to this mission is through involving our community in social justice work. Social justice not only benefits those on the outside that the individual is working with or for, but it also provides for strong intellectual and emotional development for the practitioner.

Students who volunteer are more successful in school.  From having more experiences to associate texts they read and paragraphs they write, to being a better team participant in group assignments and projects, students who participate in social justice activities are better equipped to tackle classwork and project assignments. The Corporation for National & Community Service summed it up well when they wrote

Students who report doing better in school are more likely to be volunteers than students who report doing less well…

Additionally, social justice work is beneficial to student’s emotional and physical health. Students who volunteer have an “increased sense of social responsibility”,, and a stronger understanding of injustice in the world, because they have personally connected to those they want to give back to. According to,

the benefits of volunteering in adolescence may even reduce their risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

So why not start your child as young as possible with participating in social justice activities?! We have designed the Cathay’s Connected World to actively engage our community in meaningful activities that will not only educate our community itself but will connect them to communities around the world that are committed to the same dream of providing quality education for all.

Join us April 8th for our first event:

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Education CAN Happen Outside of School

When it comes to discussions about education we often refer to the traditional school setting. We envision a classroom with a group of peers around the same age with an adult instructor guiding the students at the front of the room. And when we speak of ways to improve education, we refer to needed adjustments to our schools to enhance student performance. While it is noble to speak about improving education through the schools, a primary source for education, it ignores a plethora of other ways and places that students learn.

For many students mastering of a subject happens outside the school classroom. New experiences, unique interactions, and life situations provide for valuable education. Whether through impromptu learning opportunities throughout life or in planned informal educational experiences, the students gain richer understanding of the subject at hand. Life-long learning, the information that we gather and utilize throughout life typically happens in the informal settings.

These nontraditional settings that support a culture of learning are the key to providing learning opportunities that may not be available in the classroom. Not all students learn the same and not all learning objectives can be covered and comprehended in a traditional classroom, thus alternative learning opportunities should be provided to students who require alternative leaning styles. Valuable teachable moments, individualized and personalized leaning can be found in a learning center, such as Cathay Future, that will not only support the everyday classroom initiatives but advance core skills.


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New Years Resolutions; a Perfect Moment to Set Expectations!

By Staci Mathura, Language Arts Instructor

It’s hard to believe, but we have swiftly exchanged autumn leaves for snow, and 2018 is here. As we celebrate the joys of this holiday season and enter the New Year, many adults choose to begin with a fresh start and new goals to tackle. As an educator, talking about resolutions with my students is a perfect time to set expectations for the upcoming year and teach them to constantly set new objectives. It also gives parents the opportunity to build confidence with achievable goals and for kids to become mindful about the good habits they want to create and accomplishments they strive toward achieving.

So how do we begin to utilize this time of year to have kids set and keep their goals in mind? Experts rightly suggest keeping it positive. Start by going over the things your kids accomplished last year that made you both proud. Did they get straight A’s? Did he or she win an award? Did your kid learn to tie his or her shoe laces on their own? No matter how big or small the success it’s important to acknowledge their hard work and build upon the goals optimistically.  “Instead of pointing out shortcomings, be the historian of their previous successes,” Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. Dr Carter says “Point to the bright spot where they’re doing something well.”

Once you’ve reminded your child of the awesome things they have achieved in the past year, you have successfully set the stage to discuss what they would like to work on in the year ahead. Ask questions like “What would you like to improve? What is new a skill you’d like to learn? Is there something you could do better or differently?” This discussion will allow students to brainstorm and self assess their possible objectives. Be sure to be specific in their goal setting so as to keep a measurable benchmark of success.

Certainly kids need a little guidance. It would be helpful to suggest some broad categories such as personal goals, helping goals, and school goals and let the child fill in the specifics. If they draw a blank, you could offer some examples, such as being nicer to siblings, help out more at home or raise a grade in a class that may be challenging. You may even motivate your child by setting a family resolution that you can all accomplish together like volunteering, reading a book together as a family or even going for hikes or biking together. When this is accomplished it is important to celebrate the success and discuss the awesome feeling of checking off that goal from the list.

Some final suggestions on helping your child to set goals is to have them jot down a final list of their resolutions in a journal, or keep it up on the fridge where they can be reminded of it often. The list should not be too long as to overwhelm the student, and remember to remain motivating and optimistic when discussing their resolutions. Lastly follow through with the resolutions that you make in order to model the habits you want to see as well as the outcome you want your child to achieve. Lastly it is necessary to periodically check in on your child’s progress on their goals. Too often adults conveniently forget their New Year resolutions, but we like to teach commitment and follow through, so  gently remind the child and motivate them to succeed in the objectives throughout the year.

As we complete this semester, gather to celebrate the holiday festivities and enter the new year, I hope educators and parents alike give the opportunity to students to make resolutions for themselves. The ultimate objective is for them to develop healthy academic and personal habits that will create a lifelong impact.

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Teaching Gratitude (Just in Time for Thanksgiving)

By Staci Mathura, Language Arts Instructor

Teachers always rely on lesson planning to map out what students learn throughout the year, but sometimes there are these unplanned opportunities that arise where teachers get to offer insight that has nothing to do with the curriculum, but about life lessons.  Sometimes a kid has a bad day, sometimes there is a national event or tragedy in their lives, or sometimes they have a question about navigating the world, where teachers have to give pause and address that. These are precious and magical instances where teachers extend learning and engage students on a humanist level.

When I taught in the inner city, most kids were faces with unimaginable hardships and there were many challenges to engage them academically. Thinking back, some of the most meaningful moments were the teachable moments where I got to connect with students and I would be able to build trust and rapport. One activity that I was able to connect to the students was in their journal notebooks where I had them incrementally complete a ‘Gratitude List’ of all the things they were thankful for. It was great to share this list with each other because it showed that no matter what was going on in our lives we all had something to appreciate and we had someone to be grateful for. Kids soon learned that when we focus on the good things, the tough times became easier to get through, and they learned to think optimistically. The optimism had a positive impact on the classroom, thus increasing academic performance.I often think about how I could further these lessons instead of waiting for teachable moments, and when I did some research and lesson planning I was able to find some fun writing activities (such as practicing writing letters and thank you notes) as well as role playing activities (which was great for public speaking and building confidence) to integrate into our learning. This time of year is perfect for a teachable moment in gratitude, but these are some activities you can try at home any time of the year to put some ‘gratitude into your kids’ attitude!’

  1. Thank-you notes.When young kids receive gifts, they should be create and send a thank-you picture (if they can’t write as ye) or a short note to practice correspondence skills.
  2. Be polite. Role-play with your kid’s favorite toy or stuffed animal to practice saying “thank you.” You can model etiquette for your child so they know when to say thanks without being prompted.
  3. Your daily top 3. At dinner or bedtime, take turns sharing the three best things about your day. It will engage your family in a positive daily ritual.
  4. Make a gratitude jar. Fill it with short handwritten notes of gratitude (“I’m thankful we won the big game!” or, “I’m grateful Grandpa came to visit.”). Pick a special time to pull out notes at random and read them aloud.
  5. Celebrate your year & milestones. Every major milestone or birthday, make a list of things you are grateful for that year. A 5-year-old can think of five things to list, while a 10-year-old can manage at least 10.
  6. Thank a teacher. Send a handwritten note to let her or him know how much their efforts make a difference.
  7. Volunteer. Think of a food pantry, animal shelter or even your local church, where you can give your time and try to make it a regular commitment.

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Experiential Learning – What We’re All About

By Staci Mathura, Language Arts Instructor

“There is an intimate and necessary relation between the processes of actual experience and education.”  (John Dewey 1938)

As an educator and avid researcher of pedagogy, I’ve used many tried and true techniques to engage a range of learning styles. However one of my preferred approaches to engaging students is through the concept of ‘Experiential Learning,” whereby a student learns by a hands on approach, a direct experience or even through observation. Studies have shown that this method has tremendous benefits for the learner and give teachers creative opportunities to enhance the curriculum. As we know, each student has an individual learning style, so where one child can easily grasp a concept in writing, another’s learning style necessitates an actual sensory experience to connect and apply the concept to the real world.

Experiential learning is a model based on the fundamentals of renowned educational theorist John Dewey who wrote about the benefits of experiential education almost a century ago. Dewey advocates for progressive methods to have an experiential component and not rely on content based styles. He argues that by focusing only on content, it eliminates the opportunity for students to develop their own opinions based on interaction with the information. Furthermore the practice of creating hands on learning opportunities enhances learning and creates an invaluable transformative moment for the learner.

While it is undoubtedly important for students to grasp academic concepts through traditional learning and classic methodologies in classroom, it is impactful to create opportunities for concrete experiences. This gives students the opportunity to actively engage in their learning process, and apply the concepts to real world experiences. When teachers create opportunities for students to learn through experiences, they are able to react to new sensory situations, observe and reflect on the experience though direct participation and apply abstract ideas to real world situations.

In my teaching career I have been fortunate to give my students best practices in the classroom as well as outside the class walls so they can absorb and engage with academic concepts in a variety of methods.  I have found that not only had the learning experiences made positive impacts on pedagogy, but it created unforgettable moments between the students and teacher.  For instance I have done hands on lessons that were visually or tacitly focused, I have taken teenage students on local college tours, to volunteer in the community,  to Chicago for a choir festival and even abroad to Paris and Lisbon! Whether the experiential lesson was a small curriculum modification or an international trip, they connected the abstract concept form the classroom to a real and genuine experience for the learner.

Here are some ways that Experiential learning can be beneficial to your child:

  1. Accelerates Learning
    Experiential Learning methodology uses critical thinking, problem solving and decision making to accelerate learning through hands on and concrete experiences. Concepts that are learned in the texts can now be applied in real life scenarios.
  2. Provides a Safe Learning Environment
    Taking kids into nature, to museums or even to a restaurant and getting them to have fun will encourage them to try new things while they learn in a safe controlled environment.
  3. Bridges the Gap Between Theory and Practice
    By giving learners opportunities to apply text based information in the real world allows them to interact and test out abstract ideas, thus allowing them to retain and build upon concepts and ideas.
  4. Increases Engagement

When students are encouraged to explore and apply their knowledge, they are able to interact with the world in an academic mindset, therefore every new experience becomes a teachable moment and opportunity to absorb information.

  1. Enables Individualized Learning
    To enable personalized learning, the teacher should modify the curriculum to creatively engage the visual, auditory and tactile strengths of her students. The best way to encapsulate all of these learning styles as well as encourage learning is by creating opportunities for students to learn and apply the concepts to real experiences.

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Raising Honest Children In The 21st Century

A core value we hope to impart to our children is to not lie; no matter the circumstance, honesty is key to being successful. Right after family, honesty is one of the first values we emphasize to our little ones.

Unfortunately, in this 21st century age of internet, it is easier than ever for people to confidently lie with little repercussion to themselves personally. Users can lie, cheat, steal, etc. anonymously or under the guise of a character, without others knowing their name. The internet has become an integral tool for introverts in particular to communicate and in some cases live life. But it isn’t the only outlet for this expression and it definitely isn’t the healthiest.

Luckily it doesn’t sit entirely on the shoulders of parents to create another generation of honest individuals.

“One need not look further than a public speaking classroom or a visual art studio to see a place for children to confidently be their most authentic selves.”

In public speaking students learn and build upon skills to formulate and communicate ideas. Even the quietest of children can develop and support their own arguments. Teaching students to search for the facts provides a platform for them to not only tell the truth, but to have the truth supported by reputable sources. Visual art is another tool that can help visual communicators accomplish the same goals. When it is difficult to speak about emotions or how events have impacted us, an art class allows a child to represent themselves and formulate their message.

And for children who still love make believe, there is always performing arts. Acting can be a great way to play out scenarios and emotions in a structured environment. Definitely a safer environment than the internet.

Remember to use support where you can to help your children develop into the upstanding individuals we and you hope for them to be.

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Welcome to the Washington Cathay Future Center’s (WCFC) official blog. On this blog you will find articles and news connected to the WCFC’s mission to cultivate students’ and their families artistic expression, intellectual development, and leadership potential. Enjoy the articles, comment and share as you wish! Happy Reading! To learn more about the WCFC visit!