BONITA SPRINGS — It’s a Thursday afternoon, and the yells of tiny voices shouting “kiai” can be heard loud and clear throughout Taekwondo United.
It isn’t unfamiliar sight, to see children working on their kicks and moves, or reading a book and getting their homework done at Taekwondo United. For the kids enrolled in the afterschool program, after school isn’t for couch loafing — it’s for hard work and discipline.
On a Thursday evening, a group of children gather to prove to Master Geoffrey Rackebradt, co-owner of the school, that they’re ready for a new belt. They perform a variation of moves, kicks, and punches that Rackebrandt commands, screaming the traditional Taekwondo words as they follow his instruction.
Courtesy, integrity, self-control, indomitable spirit, humility and perseverance are the six tenets of Taekwondo — tenets Rackebrandt seeks to instill in the children who are enrolled in program at Taekwondo United.
“This after school program has a broad impact,” Rackenbrandt said. “We provide an environment where students can fight and excel, with self-defense leading to more confidence in themselves.”
When children arrive at the after-school program, conveniently dropped off by Lee County Transportation busses arranged by Rackebrandt and his wife and business partner, Kaitlyn, they’re in for an afternoon of Taekwondo training, activities and homework.
Inspired from what they heard parents say about their children’s current after-school programs (“Parents said their kids would sit in a cafeteria, do homework, but they weren’t getting their homework done,” Kaitlyn Rackebrandt said) and with the knowledge cuts had been made during recess time in public schools, the two decided to experiment with their own version of an after-school program.
“It’s a three-pillar system built around the student,” Geoffrey Rackebrandt said. “There’s home, school and after-school. We check their agenda books every day.
“I want to see positive feedback,” he added, noting that with negative feedback from teachers come repercussions at the gym, teaching children about their actions and how it can affect them both at after-school and at home.
“The system works really well,” he said.
Students at the after-school program are rewarded for their diligence and good behavior, be it hard-work at their training, in which they can test for a higher belt, or excelling in school, when they’re inducted into the Academic Excellence Club, noted with the addition of a purple star on their uniform.
“If they want something, they need to create it by being positive,” he said. “There’s no cutting corners in Taekwondo. If you want it, you’re going to have to work for it.”
For Melissa Upton, whose son Thad, 7, is enrolled in the after-school program, the hassle-free transportation and the discipline her son is gaining from the program has improved both his schoolwork and his behavior at home.
“He’s gets Taekwondo training, does his homework and reads his Accelerated Reading books,” she said. “He just got his report card and had all As and Satisfactories.”
For Thad, who traditionally does well in school, to have straight S’s is a change from his previous behavior, she said.
“He’s paying attention and working well with others,” Upton noted. “It’s been a good investment so far.”
Parents also have a stake in the reward system Rackebrandt has developed. In order for the kids to test up to a different belt, they must achieve six different colors of tape on their current belt, which represent the different aspects of training.
Beyond kicking, striking and footwork, there’s a blue tape, which represents respect and responsibility, qualities achieved at home.“We ask parents if their child is ready to receive the blue tape,” Geoffrey Rackebrandt said. “I encourage parents to be honest and use it as a learning tool.”
Kaitlyn Rackebrandt has noticed the tape’s impact on the children’s home lives, with parents commenting how much they like the blue tape.
“(The parents) can take it away,” she said. “It really helps motivate the kids to be good outside of the gym.”
So far, the after-school program has been a success. With a test run in June, there are currently 19 children signed up and attending. Because of their continued partnership with Lee County Schools Transportation Department, the program continues to grow, with the bus system flexible in adding Taekwondo United onto their route.
For Kaitlyn Rackebrandt, who knew little about Taekwondo, her knowledge of the sport from her husband and from running the business has grown immensely.
“I love hearing positive feedback (from parents),” she said. “When we seen an improvement in a child’s self-confidence … I’m not even teaching and I feel great that we can provide that.”
For more information on the after-school program, visit www.tkdunited.com