Reprinted from
North Carolina Herald-Sun
October 14, 2007

Rachel Despard breaks a board

Taekwondo Lessons

Truman Crump breaks a board BY CAROLYN RICKARD; 419-6651

Jalyn Yarborough was nervous as she approached the board, and didn't think she could break it with her bare hand.

But five tries later, she broke it easily and said she felt "happy." Her mom, Samantha Cockerham, was so happy she signed Jalyn up for weekly tae kwon do lessons at her school.

"I like the self-defense part," Cockerham said. "And the self-esteem. I like that she'll develop her self-esteem."

Jalyn -- and other students at Southwest Elementary -- will get the chance to sign up for free weekly tae kwon do lessons this year. Donated by national organization Team PRIDE and the Wake County-based Vision Martial Arts, the weekly lessons will be geared toward the most "at-risk" children, those who have low family income, speak English as a second language or have other characteristics that make them more likely to drop out of school.

"You see a marked change in kids who are in martial arts," said Peggy Dey, a Team PRIDE representative. "They become focused. We focus on life skills, discipline, respect."

Dey and other tae kwon do teachers displayed their martial arts skills Saturday during a fall festival at Southwest. Students watched them swing weapons, and had shots at breaking boards.

Tae kwon do is an ancient Korean martial art that combines physical and mental strength. The classes at Southwest originated with speech therapist Crystal Bright, who was looking for ways to bring focus and discipline to her students, many of whom are from families with financial problems.

"I didn't know anything about tae kwon do," Bright said. "I was just worried about the kids. They have so many bigger issues than just tests and schools."

Bright is a friend of Dey, and mentioned her concerns to her.

"I immediately said, 'Why not try martial arts?' " Dey said.

The Southwest program will take between 35 and 50 students, all of whom will have to apply and meet goals and challenges set for them. They'll receive supplies, including uniforms, and membership in the American Taekwondo Association. Students will learn the basics of the art, which pushes individual performance, as well as confidence, respect and self-discipline, said Rob Austin, who will be teaching the classes.

"Our goal is to help educate these students," he said. "We'll tell them, 'Don't do drugs. Stay in school.' "

© 2007 The Durham Herald Company