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Meet the Board Game Club at Gary Elementary School

12 March 2024

This club is a fun opportunity for students to make friends and learn new skills in a relaxed environment.

Students at Gary Elementary School play a card game

At Gary Elementary School in Chicago’s Little Village community, a group of middle school students gather every Friday afternoon for the Board Game Club. During the club’s meetings, students learn how to play everything from Jenga and Skip-Bo to Sorry! and Rummikub. In addition to being fun, the club is a welcoming environment for students who are new to Gary and an opportunity for students to make friends and learn new skills in a relaxed environment.

Mr. Thomas Szymanski, who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade math and English Language Arts at Gary, originally started the Board Game Club after noticing the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic had on students’ social-emotional health. 

“I realized that kids needed an opportunity to practice social skills in low-stakes situations,” said Mr. Szymanski. “A club like this helps students build relationships with each other, practice their problem-solving skills, and learn how to self-regulate their emotions.”


Two students play Uno

Seventh-graders Yariska and Carmen play Uno at Board Game Club.


As soon as the club began in the fall of 2023, it was an immediate success. Word spread quickly among sixth- and seventh-graders, and there was even a waiting list. When speaking to members of the Board Game Club, students explained they wanted to join because it was a fun way to end the week, and they liked getting together and playing with friends.

“I joined Board Game Club because I wanted to have fun and express myself with others,” said Alexis, a sixth-grade student.

This combination of fun and relationship-building has impressive effects, and Mr. Szymanski has seen it first-hand. If something frustrating happens during a game, students are more likely to process the emotion in a positive and productive way due to the relationships and trust they’ve built with each other.

Mr. Szymanski describes the Gary community as warm, welcoming, and caring, and the Board Game Club certainly reflects this. During meetings, the students go out of their way to help each other, and the club is a kind and supportive environment. 

Sixth-grader Jonathan summed it up well: “The best part of Board Game Club is spending time with each other.”


Close-up of student's hands holding cards

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