If Briana Gonzalez receives a new belt at Davila Middle School’s Kickstart Kids belt ceremony 6 p.m. Dec. 14, it will be a proud moment for her and her family. However, the Davila Middle School seventh-grader said a new belt would only be an added benefit to what she has already gained from the Kickstart Kids program.
Gonzalez is currently participating in her second year of the non-profit in-school martial arts program that a group including Chuck Norris started in 1990. She said it provides her with the discipline necessary to respond to conflict. Something she said she struggled with in the past.
Additionally, Gonzalez said the martial arts class increased her confidence and her grades. She credits her success to techniques taught in the class as well as guidance from Michael Cooper, Davila Middle School Kickstart Kids Instructor, who she said is willing to help her and her classmates with their problems.
Cooper is one of two Bryan ISD Kickstart Kids instructors along with Teddy Coleman at Jane Long Middle School. Kickstart Kids arrived at Bryan ISD in 2010 at Davila under former instructor Rommel Gargoles. Coleman arrived the following year when Kickstart Kids came to Jane Long. Over the last six years, Coleman believes he has taught over 1,000 students. He is currently in charge of 256 students, and he said the program is still growing. Jane Long’s belt ceremony will be 6 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Jane Long big gym.
Many students join the program to learn martial arts techniques, but Cooper said they come out learning much more.
“Punching and kicking is one thing, but the real structure of the family and the personality and self-esteem, that’s what we’re aiming for,” Cooper said.
Like Gonzalez, Jesse Rakowitz, Davila eighth-grader, said he struggled with anger issues before learning martial arts. He used to get into several fights before joining Kickstart Kids. Rakowitz said the program has helped him relax and deal with stress. Rackowitz currently has a blue belt and said he wants to advance all the way to 10th-degree black belt before he’s done, the highest martial arts rank.
Last school year, two Bryan ISD students achieved the coveted rank of first-degree black belt. Nicholas Rudd, Bryan High 10th-grader, and Zachary Yeomans, Bryan High 11th-grader, stood before their peers at last year’s belt ceremony and received embroidered belts, new uniforms and plaques signed by Chuck Norris.
By earning their black belts, Rudd and Yeomans earned the chance to compete with other Kickstart Kids students, perform on demonstration teams throughout Texas and mentor younger students as they become more advanced in the system.
Kickstart Kids is an officially recognized program by the Texas Education Agency and teaches thousands of students at over 50 public schools in Texas. Coleman said the benefits of his program extend beyond his classroom, as he’s received positive feedback from parents and teachers about changes in the attitude and work ethic of students who enroll in his class.
“I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot of great things,” Coleman said. “I know students are being a little bit better with the attitude and behavior. I know students are getting some work turned in on time when they’ve had issues with that before. Parents are letting me know their child has changed some behaviors at home as well as at school.”
As parents and teachers observe great strides in students that go through the martial arts program, students recognize growth in themselves. Jane Long eighth-grader Gabby Saenz said she gained many benefits from being in the program.
“I’d recommend Kickstart to anyone thinking of joining because it not only gives you physical health but also mental health,” Saenz said. “Self-respect and self-discipline are highlighted in posters on our wall, and we learn all those traits.
Children First. Always.