(Posted by Colleen Pacatte on 11/17/2017 7:00:00 AM)
Guest Blogger: Mr. Kevin Simmons, Prinicipal, Prairie Trail School

Serving as a school administrator for the past 12 years, I have had the chance to work with nearly 10,000 students. Inevitably at some point during each school year I would encounter situations where I would question: What else can we do or what else can we try in order to help our students develop a sense of pride? What else can we do to help our students respect themselves and experience how good it can feel to respect others?

As a district, we have PBIS, Team Lead and Team Lead Junior; as a school we have implemented Morning Meetings and developed lesson plans that incorporate social emotional learning standards; and still I was longing for more. I knew that I wanted a program that focused on self-confidence, self-control, and self-discipline. Knowing that for many students being active and engaging in physical activity could help quiet the mind, increase focus, and make the lessons of the heart and mind come to life, I kept coming back to the idea of creating a course that also involved some form of high intensity physical exercise.

I knew that I had participated in taekwondo as a child, and then as I became a young man I transitioned into Muay Thai, a form of kickboxing. I always thought that martial arts could be a great vehicle for connecting with some of our students. However, I kept hitting the same hurdle, I was not an instructor and teaching martial arts to students certainly would not be supported as part of my professional duties.

Towards the end of last year, Master Joffrey Mejica contacted me and asked if he and some of his students could put together an anti-bullying and martial arts demonstration for a group of students at Prairie Trail School. I knew how I felt about martial arts and yet before I was willing to host this event, I had to work through a number of fears. What would our staff think, how would parents react, and would our students misunderstand the concept of self-defense? For my entire career as an educator I had been working with students and families to help explain all of the choices students could make instead of fighting. If I brought in a program that showcased martial arts, would people now think I was training the kids to fight? After meeting with Master Joff, reviewing the program materials, and learning more about his studio, we decided to give it a try. The students and parents who took advantage of the opportunity enjoyed the presentation so much, I decided to take a risk and ask Master Joff if he had any students or knew of any other instructors who might be willing to partner with me to develop a course for our students, one that could be offered during the day here at Prairie Trail School in order to eliminate as many barriers to student participation as possible.

Master Joff and his team were so incredibly gracious and shared that they thought their studio could support our goals. In order to make our program successful Master Joff said he would be willing to work with a group of about 20 students, twice a week for a half an hour here at Prairie Trail. Before we could start, we knew we needed to secure permission from Dr. Hutton and our school board. The excitement and support we received from our school board was so encouraging that Master Joff and I got started right away on working with our staff to determine where in the school day this program could fit and how we could work with teachers to identify students for the program. From there, I made phone calls to parents anticipating that I might need to do some hard selling and overwhelmingly the response from parents was positive.

As I walked the building talking to students about this opportunity and sharing permission forms, my excitement and enthusiasm continued to grow. The positive impact of an idea that turned into a reality occurred almost immediately. Students’ faces lit up when they received the invitation. For the next several days I couldn’t walk anywhere without being quietly stopped and peppered with questions about when we would get the program running. After the first class, emails from teachers started coming in indicating how excited our students were and how they as teachers were already seeing a positive impact in their classrooms.

As I write this blog post, we have just now reached the end of our first session. After roughly 6 weeks, 17 students completed the program, showcased their newly developed skills for parents, and welcomed in our second class of students. I can’t wait to see where our program goes next. Each Wednesday and Friday morning when I am watching and encouraging our students, I am reminded of what an amazing school district we have here in D56, one that encourages innovation and creativity, supports and encourages appropriate risk taking, and truly leaves no stone unturned when trying to find and deliver diverse learning opportunities for students. Thank you to our school board and district leadership for supporting our staff, thank you to our parents for excitedly embracing our efforts, thank you to our students for showing up each day with their passion, enthusiasm and energy, and thank you to Master Joff and his Kihap family for making our ideas a reality.

What is the next step we can take to continue to reach our students, and encourage one another to think differently about how we tackle the challenges we face in education today?

Source: Blog Post retrieved from with the permission of Principal Simmons

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