EDUCATION; Motivation Plus

Article excerpt

It was 8 a.m. Tuesday.

A bright, sunny morning at Ribault High School.

Principals and school leaders from "challenged schools" -- schools trying to pull up their scores -- were arriving at the school auditorium to get some inspiration.

It came from Salome Thomas-El, not a professional motivational speaker, but one of them. An inner-city student from Philadelphia who made it through college, then became a teacher and discovered that chess could provide a way out and up for his students.

His remarkable story became a book, I Choose to Stay: A black teacher refuses to desert the inner city, which could become a movie. Thomas-El has written a second book, the Immortality of Influence.

He took special education students at a middle school -- the definition of a challenge -- and turned them into chess stars. When students carry around a chess board, people think they're smart, a message desperately needed in the inner city.

And he became a turnaround expert.

-- He turned around students who didn't believe in themselves.

-- He turned around students who didn't think they had a future.

-- He turned around students who never considered college as an option.

And he began attending college graduations of his students, a welcome change from the funerals that came all too often. As he reminded the educators a number of times, they're underpaid.

"Many times, we're the only people who say, you're beautiful, you're smart, you're going to be successful," he told the educators. …