Reprinted from
North Carolina Herald-Sun
March 1, 2008

Nonso Nwogalanya

Students earn their belts

Student breaks a board BY ELIZABETH TEMPLIN; 419-6630

DURHAM - Southwest Elementary School students demonstrated respect and discipline on Friday at the school's first Taekwondo graduation ceremony.

Wearing new, white uniforms, 37 second- through fifth-graders performed basic hand techniques and kicks and broke wooden blocks with their hands before receiving their orange belts. As their instructor shouted commands, the students stood in straight rows and yelled, "Yes, sir," before starting each movement.

"They've learned basic martial arts and basic life skills," said Rob Austin, the students' instructor who also teaches Taekwondo for Vision Martial Arts in Apex and is a second-degree black belt. "I've made sure their techniques are up to par and made sure they display discipline and respect to people in and out of school."

The Taekwondo program was started in November after a Southwest Elementary teacher, Crystal Bright, spoke with friends Peggy and Derryl Dey about behavior problems she was seeing in the classroom. The Deys, both Taekwondo students at Vision Martial Arts, thought that bringing martial arts to the school could help, Derryl Dey said.

The school partnered with Vision Martial Arts and Team PRIDE, a national nonprofit organization that gives grants to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in martial arts programs, to provide an instructor and equipment for the first on-site Team PRIDE Taekwondo program, Peggy Dey said.

The purpose of the school's Taekwondo program is to teach students physical movement and life skills.

Teachers were asked to nominate students they thought would benefit most from the program.

"Martial arts trains a person physically and mentally. The life skills mirror traits taught in the school system like courtesy, respect and perseverance," said Master Michael wegmann, a sixth-degree black belt from Vision Martial Arts. "They work on physical skills to keep them active, and they practice discipline."

Southwest Elementary School Principal Ari Cohen said he's happy to have the program at the school.

"There is a real link between student achievement and physical fitness. Programs like this can only bring about results," Cohen said. "Our responsibility at the school is to expose students to a cultural capital they wouldn't have otherwise seen. It will broaden their experience."

Parents of students who participated in Friday's graduation ceremony agreed that the program is beneficial.

Tonya Perry said her son, Daniel Hunter, a Taekwondo participant and fourth-grader, has learned discipline and seems more focused and confident.

"We are very fortunate and privileged to have this program in the school," said Katherine Hirsh, mother of Cameron Hirsh, a Taekwondo participant and third-grader. "The benefit of having it at school is that parents don't have to take their kids there. It opens up martial arts to studenst who otherwise may not have been able to take lessons."

Derryl Dey said plans are to increase enrollment to between 60 and 100 and hold four graduation ceremonies a year. In addition, he hopes to land more grants and expand the program to other schools.

© 2008 The Durham Herald Company