Friday, July 23, 2010


It sounds like the opposite of the goal the school wants to achieve, but Herbert Spencer Math & Technology Academy Principal Shawn Jackson says teaching his students boxing skills is actually encouraging them to avoid physical altercations. The after school program launched last year is called P.U.N.C.H. – Perseverance & Unity to Nurture Character & Heart.
The project is facilitated by Anton Colbert, a special needs resource teacher and 20-year staff member at Spencer, 214 North Lavergne Avenue. Colbert started boxing as a teenager and competed in Golden Gloves, Chicago Park District matches, and trained at Windy City Gym. He convinced the principal to let him conduct the program as a means of preventing violent, aggressive, and provocative behavior by giving students the poise, self-confidence, and ability to defend themselves, if necessary.
However, Colbert emphasizes that boxing is a martial art that promotes discipline, self-control, respect, character, and heart. In addressing concerns regarding students using what they learn to harm others, each participant signs a code of conduct contract, agreeing that they will not use the boxing skills they are taught to “perform bodily injury on ANY of their schoolmates.” If they violate this agreement, they will be removed from the program and face disciplinary action.
What about the potential for injury? Students do not fight each other. Utilizing the latest in technology integration, students use the techniques they develop in the program to fight simulated opponents in the Wii gaming system.
Participants meet twice per week after school and complete a regimen that includes circuit training (jumping rope, heavy bag, speed bag, and the jab bag) and practicing their skills in virtual boxing matches.
According to Colbert, “In the beginning of the program, these guys couldn’t even jump rope. Their conditioning was extremely poor and they knew nothing about boxing.” They learned proper stance, how to jab, how to throw basic punches, slipping and blocking, and their conditioning has improved dramatically. Their focus has improved in the program and in the classroom.
The boxing program has helped participants receive acceptance and respect from their peers and given them the opportunity to experience successful learning in a different context. Mr. Colbert says he believes these young men have the PUNCH to be successful through high school and beyond.
This program is not limited to boys, although no girls have yet joined in. Colbert also provides similar training for fellow staff members to help them relieve stress and improve their conditioning and fitness. Staff and student sessions take place on separate days. Colbert says he is impressed with the progress of his staff members, who enjoy the training despite sore muscles.
Principal Jackson says he is observing fewer disciplinary problems among student participants and improved classroom performance. That makes the Spencer boxing program a knock-out!

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