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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Highland Elementary School students Michelle Sosa, 9, left, Callie Enos, 7, and Macey Thomas, 7, strategize their next move in a chess game with the boys. Students at the school raised about $700 (Macey raised the most) to purchase the oversized pieces.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Andrew Leming is ready for his close-up, Mr. TV cameraman! The 8- year-old Highland Elementary School student was one of several students playing chess with oversized pieces.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

It was the boys vs. the girls when Highland Elementary School students got to try out the big chess set they bought with money raised by the students themselves.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Some Highland Elementary School students were more excited than others during a chess game in January featuring big playing pieces.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Not only is the king an important chess piece, it also makes for a good place to relax and watch the game, as Highland Elementary first-grader Makena Casey discovered.

There's a scene in the Lewis Carroll classic "Through the Looking Glass" when giant chess pieces come to life and begin moving about.

Giant chess pieces on the move at Highland Elementary School in Oildale were reminiscent of that Wednesday -- minus an evil queen barking orders.

Instead, third grade English teacher and chess club coach Tamra Parra extolled the virtues of the game as the school dedicated an enormous new chess board for the campus playground.

Parra pointed out that founding father Benjamin Franklin was among the nation's many prominent chess lovers.

"Chess is not just about fun, but it's also useful in life," she said. "We should all think about our actions before we do them, right?

"You have to look at the whole board, see what's going on, before you make a move, right? And if you make the wrong move, you have to live with the consequences."

That was about it for the speech.

Scores of excited students wanted to play, and they had no patience for ritual.

The pieces were nearly as tall as some of the youngest children, but because the pieces were hollow plastic, they were easy to lift.

Spectators sometimes shouted suggestions or warnings as older children directed younger ones where to move the pieces.

Sometimes, it was Parra raising red flags.

"Are you sure you want to move that pawn two spaces?" she offered gently. "Is that a good choice?"

Other times, she let players learn the hard way.

The new chess board didn't come out of the school's general fund. Children sold decorative bags, among other things, to raise most of the money for the $700 set of pieces. Parra kicked in a little of her own money to get them across the finish line.

The painted board came about through a stroke of luck. The playground's asphalt was already scheduled to be painted, so Parra asked school administrators to have workers draw a chess board while they were out there.

The game will be available at recess every Friday, and on special activity days.

"We didn't want to have it out every day because we want them to exercise," Parra said.

Steve Esselman watched as his 8-year-old son, Ian, stood on the board clutching a black king.

Esselman, who volunteers with the chess club, learned the game from his cousin while the two were students at UCLA and is delighted that his son is now picking up the game.

"It teaches you strategy, that's for sure," he said. "And anything that gets him off the video games, you know?"

Some of the students lauded the game's mentoring opportunities and said they enjoy the social interaction.

"You get to teach something to the younger ones who are learning how to play, and it teaches you responsibility and about taking a risk to get to a better position," said Malachi Maguregui, 9.

Other children weren't focused much on the game's character development aspects. They just thought the chess board was really cool.

"I love it," said Macey Thomas, 7, bouncing enthusiastically. "It's the best thing I've played at school."

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