Tae kwon do gives Gypsum students confidence | VailDaily.com

Tae kwon do gives Gypsum students confidence

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson / Vail DailyNew America School student Vanessa Damiao, center, and her classmates practice basic kicks Thursday during a tae kwon do class at school in Gypsum.

GYPSUM, Colorado ” With every punch and kick in their tae kwon do class, the students at the New America school let out a loud “kiai!”

Sometimes, they count out their moves with a “One, two, three!”, or maybe they count in Spanish, “Uno, dos, tres!”

And now, their tae kwon do instructor, John Brendza, has them shouting out in Korean ” “hana, tul, set!”

“They’re learning English, but we do some commands and counts in Korean. We’re getting them trilingual now,” Brendza said.

This is P.E. at the New America School in Gypsum, a charter school aimed at immersing high school immigrant students in English.

Many of the students are parents, and most of them have jobs. Many of them had dropped out of high school, perhaps demoralized and discouraged after struggling through class as their peers soared ahead. Many of them haven’t been to school in ages.

Some students know very little English and haven’t lived in the United States even a year. Others speak fluent English and came here to get help with their writing.

Keeping in mind the challenges so many of the students have gone through, learning tae kwon do makes sense, Brendza said. Martial arts is a wonderful workout, but it also helps build confidence in students.

“You can see how far you’re able to push yourself and realize your own limitations,” Brendza said.

Brendza, a long time veteran of the Eagle County School District and former superintendent, has a black belt in tae kwon do. He started learning when he was in high school, kept it up in the Army, but sort of lost track of his skills during his time as an educator.

For the past few years though, he’s found a new love for the sport. He and his son took classes earned their black belts together. Now, he’s volunteering at the school, teaching the students tae kwon do and self defense.

There’s a certain power in knowing you can defend yourself, Brendza said, but he also teaches that walking away from a fight is the best thing to do.

“It’s more about how to avoid conflict,” Brendza said.

In class, Brendza was teaching them basic tae kwon do stretches, punches and kicks. He also showed them some up-close self defense moves and how to take down an attacker with simple holds and leverage.

The students say they are enjoying it. With more training, the students will soon be able to take tests to qualify for “yellow belt” status, Brendza said.

The New America School is a system of public charter schools aimed at giving immigrants a chance to learn English and earn a high school diploma.

There are New America campuses in Aurora, Northglenn, Lakewood and now Gypsum. Most of the school’s funding comes from “per-pupil” money given by the state.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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