Legs dangling, Saadhika Bagley let her ruby-red slippers twinkle back and forth as classmates at Discovery Montessori School walked her guest, a state senator, through a multiplication table with red-and-green squares.
“No wonder you’re so good at chess,” said Ohio Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, who traveled Friday to Akron to accept a school tour from the 6-year-old.
Tavares met Bagley in April when the little girl swept a state chess tournament for female students in Columbus. The girl, born in December but wrapping up first grade instead of kindergarten, did so well in the tournament that she beat middle school students and squared off against high school opponents.
During the tour, Tavares thought about growing up in the 1960s, attending one of the first experimental multi-age classes, kind of like the one Bagley attends with students in grades one through six. And like Bagley, Tavares thought she excelled in science and math.
But chess was a game for her older brothers.
The senator was so impressed with Bagley’s command of the game that she joined state Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, to find out where she sharpened her skills. Sykes attended Discovery Montessori School for a couple of years before landing at the top of her class when she transferred to Crouse Elementary in Akron Public Schools.
Bagley occasionally whispered in Tavares’ ear to make sure the senator kept up with the lessons her classmates were providing. When she felt her visitor grasped sentence structure, multiplication and other lessons, she would pop out her chair, grab Tavares’ hand and say with a smile, “We have to move along now.”
“It’s their classroom,” said principal Lakshmi Mohan, a 35-year educator who has been at the Montessori school since it opened 28 years ago in Akron. “The older students become the teacher. … Tolerance and acceptance are stressed. … They learn to behave like a community. … They need to know how to feel another person’s emotions.”
All around the students are self-guided experiential learning lessons and diverse teachers from Belgium, India, Malaysia and elsewhere. If students don’t find peace with what they’re doing, Mohan explained, they exercise the freewill to find peace in something else.
Chess gives Saadhika peace, and the ability to look ahead. “It allows her to concentrate longer and build her mental stamina,” Sanjevan Bagley said while popping in from work to watch his daughter lead a state senator in learning.
“Saadhika is a born leader,” Dad said. “When most people wait and see, she does.”
Her secret to success in chess, aside from her pre-emptive assertiveness and command of math and reasoning, is her mother, Kala Bagley, the office manager at the school.
Kala Bagley started a local chess club for girls in 2007. Competitions began in 2013. Since then, none has done as well as Saadhika, who jumps up and down thinking about playing. She only hopes to follow her older sister, also a champion who attends nearby Lippman School.
As her classmates roll out a mat detailing the ages of the Earth, Sykes leans forward and chuckles as the students lecture. “I think I learned about this in college,” she said.
Moments later, a student removes the stones holding the chart’s corners flat to the ground. “The end,” the boy said.
“It’s still not over,” another student said of the lessons and the Earth.
“Yes,” Saadhika agreed. “It goes on for a long, long, long time.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug.