Beach students learn math, reasoning through cards

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Every Monday, fourth- and fifth-grade gifted students at Landstown Elementary School play and learn a game that’s more often associated with their grandparents’ generation: bridge.

The card game helps build students’ “muscle memory” in math and reasoning, and is good for their social skills, too, said Sandra Starkey, a volunteer teacher who leads the classes with co-instructor and fellow volunteer Marshall Hutto.

A student at Landstown Elementary holds cards during a weekly bridge class. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)
A student at Landstown Elementary holds cards during a weekly bridge class. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)

Starkey and Hutto began teaching bridge last year at Landstown through a partnership with the American Contract Bridge League. The league provides supplies, such as the textbooks and cards, and offers accreditation for their volunteer teachers.

The league, in turn, gets to expose a younger audience to their world.

“Bridge is one of the world’s most exciting and rewarding card games,” said Robert Hartman, CEO of the bridge league. “It’s really mentally challenging. Just the number of different possible card combos that you can pick up is in the billions, so every hand is a new puzzle.”

Starkey and Hutto go over everything from the basics of the game — who’s the dealer, how many cards are in the deck, how many suits of cards are there — to more complicated areas, such as the scoring system and how to properly make a bid.

Hartman said bridge requires students to think analytically and improves their deductive and inductive reasoning skills. He and Starkey agreed that bridge also helps students’ social skills.

“Partnership is key — it gives the kids trust in each other, and they often don’t have that trust in each other,” Starkey said.

On Monday, she emphasized the point with Sarah Sykes’ fifth-grade class at Landstown.

“If you don’t work together what happens?” she asked the students. “Who do you hurt if you don’t work together? You hurt your partner.”

The American Contract Bridge League estimates that about 25 million people play bridge in the United States and that their average age is a little over 65. It says it teaches about 4,000 students a year through programs like the one in Virginia Beach.

The Landstown class will go until March. At the end of the course, Starkey plans to enter some of the students in a competition, possibly in Williamsburg, for them to show off their skills.

Today, Starkey will begin taking the game to another Virginia Beach school. Three Oaks Elementary will offer three classes weekly, for gifted and non-gifted fourth- and fifth-graders.

“We think this is a fun and unique way to teach our students how to apply their math and reasoning skills,” Three Oaks Principal Linda Sidone said in a release. “We’re thrilled our students are learning a game that requires mental agility and is played all over the world.”