Cebuano uses chess to reach out to students

By: Jose Santino S. Bunachita July 23,2016 - 10:01 PM

Joseph Ocol explains how chess is played to Cebu City scholars at the Eco-House of former Cebu City councilor Nestor Archival in this July 19, 2014 file photo.

Joseph Ocol explains how chess is played to Cebu City scholars at the Eco-House of former Cebu City councilor Nestor Archival in this July 19, 2014 file photo.

A Cebuano teacher made headlines in the City of Chicago in the US two months ago.

Joseph Ocol, a 59-year-old Math teacher in Chicago was well respected among his peers until he had to choose between his students and his fellow teachers.

Last April 1, Ocol refused to join his colleagues in the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) on a one-day strike and continued to meet his chess club at the Earle STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Elementary School.

The chess club had been practicing for several weeks for an upcoming national chess tournament.

“I decided to be with my students because to me, my primary role as a teacher is to be with my students. I joined CPS (Chicago Public Schools) to be a teacher, not a union member. That’s my primary role,” he toldCebu Daily News.


The decision resulted in Ocol’s expulsion from the teachers’ union.

But weeks later, that same decision also led to Ocol’s team winning several awards in the national chess tournament including the championship for the all-girls category.

Their kinder to ninth grade boys and girls’ team also won fifth place during the national tournament. Ocol started the chess club in their school in 2005.

He would gather the students, who are mostly underprivileged African-American children, after class from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.  to play chess – a sport which he believes helps children develop critical thinking skills and instill the knowledge that there are consequences to every move they make in life.

Over the years, they enjoyed regular funding from the school and they continued reaping awards from different state-wide and national chess tournaments.


But the school had to slash their budget earlier this year forcing other after-school clubs to stop. But Ocol and his chess club didn’t give up.

Using his own money, Ocol continued the practices after classes even without overtime pay.

“I felt bad for the kids because they still go to the classroom after class. I started this program in 2005 since our area in Chicago is a crime-prone area.

I thought I can save lives by being there. So I decided to just volunteer my time and effort to continue it,” Ocol said.

After their plight got the attention of local TV networks and newspapers in the city, donors started coming in for the club.

They were able to raise donations to fund their travels in order to join chess tournaments.

Five days later in that same year, Ocol receives a certificate of commendation from the Cebu City Council. (CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA)

Five days later in that same year, Ocol receives a certificate of commendation from the Cebu City Council. (CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA)


The club’s wins were also recognized by the city mayor and the US Congress.

Chicago City Mayor Rahm Emanual and the Chicago City Council passed a resolution last June 22 recognizing the chess teams of Earle STEM Elementary School for their performances in national tournaments.

The group’s feats were also recorded and noted in the US Congress through Congressman Danny Davis who delivered a speech in Congress recognizing the teams’ achievements last June 8.

Ocol received a Certificate of Recognition from Illinois State Sen. Mannie Hunter last June 6 for his dedication and performance as the school’s Math teacher and chess coach and for leading their all-girls team to victory in the national championship.

The group was also scheduled to visit President Barrack Obama last month but due to the president’s busy schedule, they didn’t get to meet him personally although they were able to tour the White House.


Ocol said their school’s chess team was also invited by one of the producers of the Steve Harvey show to appear in one of their September episodes.

However, Ocol admitted that there were some downsides to the controversy he got embroiled in last month.

Losing the support of his fellow teachers was the hardest part.

“The atmosphere from the other teachers has been hostile. I have the support of the school principal but some of my peers have started treating me differently,” he said.

The CTU is the third largest union in the US and his expulsion meant losing the support of the union in possible legal battles he might have to face in the future as well as some other benefits.

Annual visit

But the media attention he’s been getting in relation to the strike also earned him support from some private groups who called him to express their support for his situation.

He said some lawyers even volunteered to represent him if ever he is asked to pay a fine or be sued by the union for not joining the strike.

Ocol is in Cebu as part of his annual visit to his hometown to observe the death anniversary of his mother in July.

Ocol also plans to donate a school that their family owns in Catanduanes to the Department of Education (Deped).

Ocol’s parents founded the Catanduanes Institute of Technology Foundation Inc. (CITFI) 22 years ago.


When they died, Ocol became the school’s president but since he’s based in the US, he’s been having difficulty maintaining the school.

Ocol is scheduled to meet with DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones in Manila within this month.

Ocol has also been a supporter of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte since last year and met him when Duterte had yet to confirm his presidential bid.

Ocol said he’s optimistic that they will be able to successfully donate the school to DepEd so that the legacy of his parents will continue.

Last year, there were initial talks to donate the school to DepEd but there were several issues and and problems that hindered the deal from pushing through.

In the past school year, CITFI didn’t receive students and maintained a lean staff for the school’s upkeep. Ocol said he hopes that the donation pushes through.

“I want to donate the school to the government and hopefully it will be accepted. So that when I leave for Chicago, I’ll be happy that I’ve been able to continue the legacy of my own parents by donating the school and making it continue its mission as an educational institution,” Ocol said.

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TAGS: Chess, classes, DepEd, education, student, teach, teacher

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