Tag Archive | "kids"

Community Kicks

Alnatur teaches his class

by William Denselow, Palestinian Beat Reporter —

Galloping across the blue matting of the gym floor, a toddler in a baggy karate uniform runs over to his mom to show off. Moments earlier he held a piece of wood. Now he holds two. A deadly karate chop did the damage. Much to this boy’s delight.

“Developing champions in life, for life.” That is the message of a new martial arts gym that has recently opened in Paterson, N.J. Its mantra is simple. Greatness dwells within us, it just needs to be channeled.

“Our goal is to create great martial artists and great leaders in the community,” said Master Tarek Alnatur, 34, owner and head trainer of the Elite Black Belt Academy.

The gym now has over 80 students and is fast becoming a community hotspot. Although breaking pieces of wood is impressive, the martial arts academy has bigger plans for the town of Paterson.

Alnatur is Palestinian-born but has lived nearly his whole life in Paterson. He has been running the gym since it opened in June with his wife Suhair and aims to use the gym to improve the local area.

Alnatur said he believes karate classes provide a much-needed positive outlet for young people living in the crime-ridden city. In 2009 there were nearly twice the number of violent crimes recorded in Paterson than the rest of New Jersey.  Last February, 125 police officers were laid off, which has done little to help the problem. Although 37 officers have been subsequently added, the cut still equates to over a fifth of the police force. 368 police officers now operate in Paterson.

“This is the perfect sport to build confidence and stay out of trouble,” said Alnatur who believes that the lessons learnt in the karate Dojo can be transferred into everyday life.

One initiative that the academy has introduced is to establish a greater connection between schools and the gym. In fact, karate students can only move up in belts if they can prove they are excelling at school. “We’re not looking for A, B or C grades,” said Alnatur, adding, “What we are looking for is, are they courteous? Are they showing respect? The pillars of the Black-Belt.”

The local schools have been cooperating by sending forms to the gym with information about how their students have been behaving. “The schools love it,” said Alnatur.

Feedback has been so positive that teachers are referring more kids to join Elite Black Belt Academy in the hope that their performances at school will also improve

“The kids love the academy. If it means improving their grades, they’ll do it,” said Alnatur.

When looking around the brand new studio, the messages of the black belt are clear for all to see. Written in large blue letters on the still pristine whitewash walls are words that symbolize what it means to be a martial arts master. Discipline. Respect. Leadership. These words are not only scattered on the walls, but are recited in every class, by every student.

“Karate is not just kicking and punching,” said Alnatur, it is part of a greater ethos.

Parents are also enthusiastic about the initiative. Nina Ayyad, 37, has only been taking her two sons to the academy for three weeks but is already a fan. She initially signed her kids up to help her eldest son Yousef, 10, lose weight but she said she appreciates what the gym is doing for the area.

“It all helps the children,” she said.

Although Yousef hasn’t memorized the karate mantra yet, he has picked up a few lessons from Alnatur, his business partner Mohammad Sheikh, 26, and their assistant Hamada Sheikh, 19.

“It teaches you if you’re strong not to do bad stuff to people,” said Yousef, as he hid behind his mom.

Alnatur has big plans for his academy and wants it to become a place where all members of the community can congregate. While education is important, he also believes that ethnic integration will help reduce crime in Paterson. Although 90 percent of his students are Arab, most of whom are Palestinian, Alnatur said he wants his gym to become a bridge between ethnicities.

These plans are not just constrained to the gym studio. The academy has organized events such as community picnics to promote interaction.

“Already the gym is having luck engaging Paterson’s Hispanic community,” said Alnatur.

The academy is also working with Passaic County to address the problems facing the community. The gym has put on several evening events with the police to inform parents and their kids of the dangers they face in the area. Speaking at a recent seminar, Detective Javier Castellanos, 44, who has been working in the Sheriff’s Department Gang Intelligence Unit since 2002 said, “in the county we have a gang presence everywhere.” Working in unison, Alnatur and Castellanos hope that greater awareness will keep future generations away from gangs.

Smashing pieces of wood in two is one thing but smashing crime in the community will be an entirely different challenge for Alnatur and the Elite Black Belt Academy.

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Families Connect to Their Filipino Culture Through School

By Jaslee Carayol

Still in its inaugural year, the Filipino School of New York/New Jersey is a weekend program aimed at educating elementary school children in Filipino language, history and culture.  The curriculum fuses Tagalog vocabulary with Filipino history and varied activities to appeal to the young children.  And, many parents say, the youth program benefits them as well, as they find that the classes help them connect to their heritage.

A recent class at the school, held in an Asian American organization’s neighborhood center at 380 Monmouth St., Jersey City, New Jersey, centered on a Philippine island called Capiz.  After the five young students and their parents settled around a large table, the school director, Venessa Manzano explained the day’s curriculum.  The children would be writing to pen pals from Capiz, learning new vocabulary words, and doing an arts and crafts project, all of which related to the region.

Hipon,” Manzano said.

Hipon,” the parents and children repeated.

“Shrimp!”  One of the children excitedly yelled out the definition, already aware of the word’s meaning.

Manzano went through the vocabulary list, pausing to put words into context.  Hipon was on the list because the island is known for its seafood.  Capiz also indicates a shell that is found on the island and commonly used in Filipino decorating, examples of which Manzano passed around the table.  And simbahan (church) was on the list because the island is home to the oldest church in the country.  And after a brief history lesson, the children began to color pictures of hipon, capiz and other words off the list to create mobiles.

Manzano established the school after seeing a need in the Filipino community.

“I realized a lot of my friends were getting married and having kids,” Manzano said.  “And a lot of the parents were looking for Tagalog classes.”

Manzano, 33, is married and has a 2-year-old son.  She officially incorporated the school in 2008.  After extensive research and consultations, the first of several eight to 10 week sessions began in January 2011.  Manzano modeled her program after Iskwelahang Pilipino, the weekend school she attended as a child in Boston.

Manzano, who is American-born, remembered the Filipino school in Boston as allowing her to form relationships with other Filipino families and learn about aspects of Filipino culture such as the language, dances, arts and crafts, and food.  The multifaceted program was memorable to Manzano and she has tried to create a similarly engaging program for her own students.

The program Manzano shaped seeks to involve parents as well.  Families drive to Jersey City for the classes from different parts of the state to bring their children to the lesson.  The parents are mostly American-born and speak little to no Tagalog themselves.  Some said that  their own sense of  detachment from Filipino culture showed them the importance of such a program in their children’s lives.  They recognized that the program would allow them to reconnect with their culture.

Jerome and Grace You drive 45 minutes to bring their 4-year-old, Isabel, to the Filipino School each weekend.  Jerome, who is Korean-American, and Grace, whose parents are from the Philippines, grew up in the U.S. and felt it was important for their daughter to have the kind of cultural background they missed.

“It’s important to maintain identity and background,” Jerome said.  “It’s not the way it used to be when immigrants used to congregate together.”

Grace understands Tagalog, but does not speak it because her parents’ desire to assimilate outweighed their emphasis on culture.  But she does not share her parents’ views.

“She’s half Filipino, so it’s more important to get some kind of culture there,” Grace said of her daughter.  And the Yous said next on their list was finding a Korean language program for Isabel to learn the other half of her heritage.

Karen Barisonek, who brought her 4-year-old son, Thomas, was the only parent present that was born in the Philippines and immigrated at a very young age.  She characterized her upbringing as being in both a Filipino household and American society.  Though her parents spoke Tagalog to her and her siblings, they wanted their children to assimilate and speak unaccented English.

Though Barisonek understands Tagalog completely, she is still learning alongside her son at the Filipino School.  She did not begin to speak the language until after Thomas was born and says it is harder to do so than to understand.

“My husband is not Filipino, so I feel the responsibility to teach him our culture,” Barisonek said of speaking Filipino with her son.

And speaking the language and attending the Filipino School is the most significant way she can bring the culture to Thomas’ everyday life.

“Our ethnicity is getting diluted,” Barisonek said, since her siblings also married non-Filipinos and her parents don’t live nearby.

The idea that the Filipino School will help disseminate culture to their children and then on to future generations was echoed by Anthony Yabut.  He brought Patrick, 7, and Jackie, 4, to the program, which he felt was a good opportunity for them to learn.

“There’s not a lot of venues where you can do that formally, you know, outside of the family,” Yabut said.

The lack of Filipino educational venues was the need that Venessa Manzano was hoping to address.  Her immediate goals for the future include hiring staff and expanding into Queens and then Bergenfield, which has the second largest Filipino population in New Jersey.  At the moment, Manzano is happy to get the parents involved and to keep the school’s mission simple: it’s about the kids.

“By teaching our culture, it’s a legacy to give them,” Manzano said.

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