Martial Arts are more than just a way to improve health or learn self-defense, particularly in Joseph Rollins’ classes at KIPP DC Northeast Academy. In its first year as an elective class for KIPPsters, students learn the importance of discipline, goal-setting, and other tangible life-skills to help them succeed beyond the mat and inside the classroom.
“I always wanted to have a martial arts program in a school and here I get to come up with my own curriculum and make the focus what I want. That’s discipline, academic excellence, respecting each other, and not making excuses,” said Rollins.
The current program at KIPP DC Northeast Academy has more than 200 student’s grades 5-8, each with their own story and ways they can apply martial arts teachings to their own life. “Every day there’s always a student with a new story or something new they’re going through,” he explains. “And as I connect with them through martial arts, their life turns and they make the decision to have discipline, they decide to follow direction, they decide to do better for themselves.”
Which is where the program is most impactful, giving students the mental tools to overcome the challenges life will invariably throw at them. “I started doing martial arts when I was seven and it carried over into other aspects of my life, whether it was discipline, focus, all of those things,” he said. “My mission is to give them tools of self-reliance and use those to overcome any obstacle that comes their way.”
Through the shouts, exuberance, and energy inside Mr. Rollins’ classroom, its clear students are embracing the challenge and discipline that comes with studying martial arts. But as he explains, students aren’t the only ones gaining from the program.
“When I see the light-bulb come on and things start clicking for them, and I see it translate into their classroom, those are the things I get the most pride out of. I like seeing them do better at martial arts, but I love seeing them change in life.”
This year, karate is a pilot elective class at KIPP DC Northeast Academy. Across the KIPP DC network of middle schools dance, art, physical education, Spanish, and orchestra are some of the other elective classes offered during the school day. Each middle school principal works with students and families to decide what enrichment classes are best for their school.