Martial Arts Program Open Doors for RSD Elementary School Children

College Pre-Service Teachers Benefit from Practical Experience

Fourth-grade students in the Glenside Elementary School gymnasium are seated on their yoga mats. Although they may not realize it, they are learning more than martial arts maneuvers in the Yoga and Taekwondo after-school program. The program, developed by Penn State Berks faculty members Valerie Cholet, Instructor in Kinesiology, and Dr. Jessica Schocker, Assistant Professor of Social Studies, is actually a vehicle to teach physical education and social studies in a unique and authentic way.

Together with Penn State Berks Childhood and Early Adolescent Education majors, Cholet and Schocker visit the elementary school on select Thursdays during the spring semester and lead the children in an hour-long program with a twist; each week focuses on a different positive theme such as courage, respect, and community. In conjunction with the theme, the children are given corresponding positive affirmations to say, such as ?I am courageous.? Each week?s activities are based upon meeting standards in social studies and health/physical education.

After an introduction and warm-up, the children are given the theme of the week. While practicing their yoga poses, the theme is reinforced. Then, the children learn some basic Taekwondo techniques, giving them a cardiovascular workout. At the end of each session, while cooling down, they have the opportunity to discuss the theme and share how they will continue to use it beyond the session. For example, one week the students focused on safety. While practicing yoga postures, they learned correct form and the value of paying attention to detail in all tasks. During Taekwondo, safety involves practicing self-control when demonstrating appropriate kicks and punches. This theme also required the students to listen and work together as a community of learners.

In addition to helping the children at Glenside Elementary School learn essential life skills outside the classroom, the after-school program provides valuable experience for the Penn State Berks student teachers that help facilitate the program. When reflecting on their experience, the pre-service teachers indicated a deeper sense of management skills and interdisciplinary curriculum development, while fostering a stronger sense of connectedness with fellow pre-service teachers, college faculty, and children.

When asked how the idea for the program originated, Cholet and Schocker, who both teach in the college?s Education program, explained they believe education needs to teach the ?whole child.? Whole child education focuses on developing skills such as reading, math, and writing in authentic social contexts rather than in a vacuum. Using physical education serves as an appropriate platform for which to integrate academics and social skills for the development of positive, participatory citizens of the community and world. In disciplines such as Yoga and Taekwondo, practitioners are encouraged to work on developing a strong self-esteem. Further, the basic philosophical grounding of these Eastern influenced practices stresses an awareness of community and the way our actions impact others. Research has indicated that a sense of community is particularly important for children in urban schools who are subject to transience and poverty. Since the Reading School District serves an at-risk student body, it seemed to be a perfect fit. Additionally, all funding for after-school programming at Glenside had been cut, so this program offered the only opportunity for an organized after-school activity.

?A program emphasizing fun while being active created a safe and welcoming environment in which the children could interact,? explains Cholet. ?Using Yoga and Taekwondo provides a one-of-a-kind way to engage students in physical activity and also exposes them to types of exercises that they may never have the chance to experience otherwise.?

Schocker adds, ?As a social studies educator, I saw this as an opportunity to teach students about culture, history, and most importantly, community?one of the most important concepts the National Council for Social Studies stresses for elementary-aged children. Yoga and Taekwondo are rich with tradition, and provide a real-life example of how cultures influence one another and can bring people together in the local community and from around the world.?

The children are very enthusiastic about the program, and their teachers and guidance counselor report that the children used the affirmations they learn in the program in the classroom before tests.

This is the second year that Cholet and Schocker held the Yoga and Taekwondo program at Glenside Elementary School; in the spring of 2012 they brought the same program to third grade students at the school.