hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

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February 15, 2012

Karate helps them be better students

How do a karate chop or front kick make youngsters into better students and children at home?

Just ask their parents and peers.

After six weeks of hard work and training, some dedicated Haverhill High School students received their rewards in a ceremony on Tuesday morning. White belts in karate were presented to eight special needs students by Chris Daigle of Ocasio's True Martial Arts Academy as part of the Life Skills program at Haverhill High School.

The true gain had less to do with the belts and karate moves, and more with the work ethic and confidence the students gained.

"He's very thankful for this program," Amy Bowler said of her son Sean, who participates in the Life Skills program. "I'm glad that he has this opportunity. The kids need structure and hopefully this gives them more discipline as well."

Bowler sees Sean wanting to help out with chores and responsibilities around their home. She said her son will often help clean dishes or help with folding laundry.

The Life Skills program is designed to give students structure and basic life skills so that they are able to function better despite their emotional or behavioral disorders.

"The kids enjoy it very much," Aimee Mansfield, one of the teachers in the program, said of the martial arts training. "They are very enthusiastic about getting the belts."

"We want them to build skills so that when they leave they can have vocational opportunities," said Beth Kitsos, assistant principal at Haverhill High.

The students often do work around the school, which helps make them feel more part of the educational community. Every morning they bring in the newspaper from outside the entrance. They also deliver mail around the school, clean windows and re-stock the cafeteria's snack bar.

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