Sometimes, even a veteran FBI agent can be outwitted by a kid.
It happens to Steve Bradford almost weekly when he plays chess with 11-year-old David Knight at Hawthorne Elementary School in Salt Lake City.But before the two hit the chess board each Friday morning, they hit the books. Bradford is one 32 agents and staff from the FBI's Salt Lake office who serve as volunteer tutors for Hawthorne students.
Bradford and Knight have been reading and playing chess together since September 1997.
The two-year-old program began as part of a 1992 project initiated by the George Bush White House. It encouraged federal government offices to commit to community service time that would benefit public education, said Salt Lake's FBI Special Agent in Charge Thomas Kubic.
"The idea was to encourage employees to be part of the solution," Kubic said. "So we got involved in the adopt-a-school program."
The program is designed to help those children who are wrestling with academics. But the residual benefits are not only kids with rising grade point averages, but kids with growing self-esteem, Hawthorne principal Sue Parker said.
"I got involved reluctantly," Bradford admits. "But I've got to give the bureau credit on this one. They were right on."
For the most part, the weekly homework assignments Bradford and his school chum do together are centered on developing reading, comprehension and writing skills. Together they have read several fictionalized books about the Civil War.
Bradford is no stranger to homework. He has a 12-year-old son of his own at home. But working with Knight has taught him a few things.
"We both need to work on our concentration and organization, but David has taught me that I really need to listen," Bradford said. "He's also taught me some really good chess moves."
Knight's teachers see his strides in reading spilling over into other aspects of his education. His concentration is better and he is more responsible.
"Before, he was easily distracted, he wasn't motivated," said teacher Vickie Thomas. "But he's thriving on this individual attention. I've seen him come out of his shell a bit. His attitude is better. He's not apathetic. He's motivated to complete his assignments. He's prepared in class. We definitely see the progress in every part of his learning."
If there is a concern, Thomas said, it is that by pulling Knight out of class for individual tutoring, he misses some of the classroom interaction.
"But the benefits far outweigh those concerns," she said.
Knight said Bradford's support and help have made him more interested in school.
"I read more now, at least 20 or 30 minutes a night. He helps me understand the stories and the background," he said. "I even like homework a little bit more."
But it always goes back to chess. On this particular Friday, Knight makes quick work of Bradford, beating him in 13 moves.
"He's pretty good," Knight said of Bradford. "But I usually beat him."