Taekwondo program hits hard at Parley’s Park Elementary School
Students learning discipline and martial arts
November 22, 2016
The first time she and her two children put on a taekwondo class for the Parley's Park Elementary School after-school program last winter, Janice Ugaki began wondering if it had all been a misguided idea in the first place.
Students were rambunctious and unruly, practicing cartwheels and playing tag instead of listening to the instructors. Few seemed interested in actually learning martial arts.
"It was almost like those movies, where you go into a school where everything is chaotic," Ugaki said. "Kids weren't listening and not standing up. It was frustrating. My kids looked at me afterwards and said, 'Now I know what my teacher feels like when the class is not listening.' We looked at each other and wondered if we should go on with this."
Now, they are delighted that they continued. Over the next few weekly classes, the students, many of whom are part of Park City's underserved population, began to show improvement. Ugaki and her children, who have been participating in taekwondo for years, were encouraged.
The Park City Ninja Kids program is now in its second year, and Parley's Park students have made stunning progress.
"I am absolutely thrilled with them," said Cheryl Vance, a decorated taekwondo expert who is the program's primary instructor. "They are just as good as the students I have down in Salt Lake. Now that they know what is expected, they have clear boundaries of what they can and cannot do. Like any kid, they're eager to please. That, coupled with the social aspect of it being a team environment, has been great. They feel that empowerment."
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The program started last school year when Emma Greally, Ugaki's daughter and a student at Ecker Hill Middle School, was searching for a school community service project. She thought it would be a perfect opportunity for the students in the Parley's Park after-school program to participate in something fun and interesting that they wouldn't typically learn in school.
She said it's been exciting to watch other children begin to develop a passion for something she loves.
"This originally started as a community service project," she said. "But then seeing how much the students love to learn taekwondo and love being there in that environment, you're just happy to teach them just out of your own hearts. I think they really love it because it's not something a lot of kids get to do."
Vance, who agreed to instruct the class because she saw it as an opportunity to tie in her passion with community service, said the students have thrived on the culture of taekwondo. Taekwondo emphasizes discipline, manners, respect and teamwork — life lessons that are valuable for anyone.
Additionally, Ugaki said, learning taekwondo, a defensive form of martial arts, gives the students self-confidence.
"We always teach the students that we're teaching them how to fight so that they never have to," she said. "We want them to have the confidence in themselves and respect within themselves to say, 'I don't need to fight or to prove myself. I know I have these skills.'"
The Park City Ninja Kids program is seeking $4,500 to $5,000 in donations so it can test the students to receive taekwondo belts. Those interested in donating should contact Greally at firstname.lastname@example.org.