KEYES - Evening karate lessons held three times a week in Keyes have inspired about 100 students to aspire to better discipline and motivation.
"It's taken off like wildfire," said Ed Persike, a black belt instructor from Ceres who started the program in an effort to reduce crime in the county. "We're growing. The PAL people have reported that it's the most successful PAL program that they've ever had."
About three months ago, Persike started offering the classes along with Francisco Ramirez. They boast a collective 60-70 years of martial arts training between them. Persike, a financial adviser, earned his black belt in 1970.
The program has touched about six percent of the student population in Keyes. They gather in two sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Keyes Community Center. Many come from dysfunctional families where there is little parental involvement, said Persike.
"It's heartwarming to see the kids change," said Persike. "We have a strong parents club. Reports are coming back from the school that the kids are much more disciplined and pay attention better in the classroom. Grades are going up."
Part of the training involves having the children stand still for a minute to gain control. The 40-50 minute lessons also involve games with a moral or ethical lesson.
The Little Dragons group is comprised of first through third graders and involves older students who act as leaders. They meet between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. with an adult class that follows from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The program graduated about 90 people into orange and yellow belts.
Persike said the PAL program charges $20 per month per child or $40 per month per family.
To contact Jeff Benziger, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.