Chantal Duval-Jackson’s Kickstart Karate students lined up in neat rows and ran through warm-up drills on Monday with their usual precision and enthusiastic shouts of “Kiai!”
The only noticeable differences on the first day of face-to-face instruction at Navarro Middle School were the addition of masks and carefully staggered checkerboard mat to ensure social distancing measures were observed.
Duval-Jackson, who has taught karate at the school for nearly 10 years, had the extra challenge this year of creating a safe space for her students – not an easy task considering karate usually is a full-contact sport. She has about 150 students in sixth through eighth grades, and about 30 percent of those students have opted for in-person instruction. The majority of her students are participating virtually.
Since 1992, public schools across the Houston area have offered the program as part of their physical education curriculum. The program, founded by martial artist and actor Chuck Norris, is now in more than 20 HISD middle schools, including Navarro.
During class, Duval-Jackson connects with her students participating from home via bluetooth camera and speaker, and those students are projected on the wall so they can all feel like a team.
“I call each of them out randomly, and they need to respond or they don’t get their participation grade, and it’s working very well – they are engaging and taking part,” she said. “We’re all a family.”
Duval-Jackson has a deep connection to the program, having participated as middle-schooler at Navarro. Her father was also a karate instructor at Navarro. She said her love of the program has a direct impact on her students, and she has seen the positive effects firsthand.
“I have seen graduation rates go up, and students open up more,” Duval-Jackson said. “Their confidence level grows so much … they start to grow up.”
Navarro Principal Emeterio Cruz, who is new to the school, said he learned early on how important the championship-winning program is to the school and community at large.
“The program is well-liked and appreciated. Parents have taken part in this program, and they want their kids to be a part of it – it’s fundamental to Navarro,” he said. “Kids come into this program shy, and it completely transforms them.”
Navarro eighth-grader Joshua Guandique, who has been in the program since sixth-grade and is featured on the program’s demonstration team, said karate has been an interest of his since he was little. He said the class has increased his confidence and leadership abilities.
“In high school, I plan to come back and help where I can,” he said. “It’s helped me change a lot, and over time I’ve learned a lot – what to do and what not to do. It increases confidence.”