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Students at Jeffers Hill Elementary School will learn to develop active lifestyle skills as well as respect for themselves and others through a martial arts partnership that the school recently made official.

Under the partnership, New Vision Martial Arts of Columbia will develop workshops that build students' skills in concentration, communication and nonviolent conflict resolution while improving their physical fitness; provide guest speakers during cultural events; and offer biannual self-defense workshops for the school staff.

"The main thing is to ... promote healthy habits with the kids," assistant principal Kathleen Lopez said. "But it will also build children's self-awareness and self-esteem. It will help to promote behavioral health of a child - the overall health of a child - not just the physical health."

For the partnership, the school had to look no further than to its own PTA. Shelly Walrath, a parent and treasurer of the school's PTA executive board, is also owner of New Vision Martial Arts. Walreth has been sharing martial arts demonstrations with the school for the past couple of years and was eager to make a more official partnership with the school, according to Lopez.

"It has helped us with cultural awareness in the school," Lopez said. "She's been doing a lot for our school."

In the past, Walreth has conducted demonstrations teaching students about self-defense against strangers and the dangers of bullying and has taught teachers strategies for personal safety.

"The students have always been very receptive. They just think it's cool. They've always enjoyed it. They're always attentive while she's speaking," said Lopez, adding that the sessions have also received positive feedback from teachers.

Walreth was at the school Nov. 5 for a martial arts introduction class. There are plans to bring her back to the school again in the spring, according to Lopez.

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