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Straight As and sparring can go hand-in-hand

by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff, Emily Lee leads a Tae Kwon Do mini-class in front of the Woodstock Community Center on a beautiful early summer evening.  Pictured with her are student Avi Halpurin, age 7, and instructor Gary Wright.

Parents and teachers are constantly searching for ways to motivate students to meet high academic standards. Tying sports to academic achievement is one way to help students realize their potential. Gary Wright, Tae Kwon Do instructor at the Woodstock Community Center, says he firmly believes in this approach.

'I model my program for achievement after my grand Master Doug Tesdal in Vernonia, who started an academic achievement award for his students five years ago,' says Wright. 'In his classes, when students have straight A's they become a member of the Prestigious Youth Club.'

Wright has devised his own incentive. 'What I do is tell the kids here in Woodstock that if they want to instruct as well as learn Tae Kwon Do, they have to be on their school's honor roll. Everybody wants to teach a class, so it's a motivator,' says Wright.

Sixteen-year old Eastmoreland resident Emily Lee, a four-year student of Wright's Tae Kwon Do class, is an honor student at Riverdale High School. Because she has straight A's in addition to having earned her black belt, she has the privilege of teaching, as well as continuing to learn Tae Kwon Do at the Woodstock Community Center.

Lee reports that she is happy to have found her niche in this rigorous non-contact martial art. She remembers what it was like before she settled on Tae Kwon Do as her sport and exercise outlet. 'I used to juggle a really busy sports schedule, trying to balance soccer and yoga with Tae Kwon Do. Now I can focus on this. It's great.'

Lee, who went to Duniway Elementary before Riverdale, credits her start in Tae Kwon Do to the first friend she made at Duniway after she moved to Oregon in second grade. 'Elena was my good friend. One summer day four years ago she told me about this Tae Kwon Do class and asked if I wanted to try it', Lee remembers.

When asked what keeps her committed to the rigorous regime of exercise and memorizing of Tae Kwon Do patterns, she answers, 'It's mostly just fun and a good workout, and I like the organization and discipline.' She says she enjoys meeting people and making friends in the classes. 'I like the tournaments because we get to spar with other people in the International Tae Kwon Do Federation,' she adds.

As for her academic achievement, Lee's father credits Wright's incentives. 'Certainly the whole Tae Kwon Do experience encourages them to apply discipline to other parts of their lives and to motivate them to improve their school performance,' he says. 'It definitely helped push Emily to do her best.'

Anyone who has ever watched or participated in a Tae Kwon Do class is likely to have concluded that it challenges both the body and mind, and brings a satisfaction from discipline and hard work. Lee takes it all in stride, emphasizing the fun, as do her classmates ranging from 7 to 56 years in age.

Tae Kwon Do classes at the Woodstock Community Center continue through the summer and into the Fall. For more information about class scheduling call the Woodstock Community Center 503/823-3633.