When the end of school day bell rings, eight students gather in the library of Somerset Elementary School, eager for bridge to begin.
Each child takes a seat opposite his or her partner at one of two tables.
While instructor Irene MacArthur and her assistant deal a deck at each table, the children devote their full concentration to the cards they are receiving, ready to signal to their partners about the cards they’re holding.
“In bridge there are four suits (categories). These are spades, which are ranked the highest, and hearts, diamonds and clubs, which are the lowest. Keep these things in mind as you play your cards,” explains MacArthur just before the game starts.
It’s a scene that plays out each Wednesday afternoon when the bridge club meets at this rural school in Kinkora.
The extracurricular activity is very popular to students. For Spencer Mullins it’s a favourite part of the week.
“Bridge is a fun card game that really helps you problem solve and slightly helps you in math,” says the Grade 6 student, who explains the game this way.
“Each of us gets 13 cards and Irene will call out the suits, and whoever has that card tosses it into the middle. The first person that gets rid of all their cards wins a big, gigantic candy bar at the end of the game,” he says.
Spencer joined the group because he was looking for social stimulation.
“I needed something to do other than playing video games after school. I also like everything about bridge,” says the Emerald resident.
It’s also a preferred activity for Emma-Grace Coyle.
“It’s very fun and educational,” says the Grade 5 student.
Others, like Katie Pearce, took a while to warm up to it. She needed a little gentle coaxing from her teacher.
“I chose bridge because Ms. Lamont convinced me to come out and try it. When I did, I really enjoyed it,” says the Grade 6 student from Lower Bedeque.
While it’s a fun game, it teaches many valuable skills, says teacher Eleanor Lamont, who supervises the 12-member club.
“It improves memory, higher thinking skills and mental math. There’s a social component, too. It’s a game that if learned now, these guys will be able to play when they’re 90.
“It’s also something special to belong to. Not everyone plays basketball. So it’s another activity that we can provide for them,” says Lamont.
The club started two years ago when Lamont approached MacArthur, an accredited bridge teacher with the American Contact Bridge League (ACBL), with the idea.
“Eleanor, who was in one of my adult classes in Charlottetown, came to me and told me that she had a niece taking lessons at her school and she would like to initiate classes at Somerset.
“I told her I would look into it,” she says.
In her research, MacArthur discovered that the ACBL provides a stipend for the teacher, books for the children and T-shirts without any cost to the students.
“So we decided to go for it. Many of these kids liked it so much they have returned for a second year,” says MacArthur.
After that successful first year, news about the club spread.
“Now we have two other schools with a bridge club program,” says MacArthur, adding Ray Malone is the supervisor at West Royalty Elementary School while Carol Mann is in charge at Elm Street Elementary.
“Our plans for the future? As enthusiasm for the game grows, we’re hoping to set up an Island competition. The three schools will meet and we’ll have an Island trophy for the winners,” says MacArthur.