School year-end profile: Ann Benninghoff gives students focus through martial arts

The Colorado Education Association celebrates the hard work and dedication of all teachers and education support professionals at the end of the 2012-13 school year with a visit to Dutch Creek Elementary School in Littleton, where paraprofessional Ann Benninghoff volunteers her time before school to give her students a great start to the learning day.

Parapro Ann Benninghoff leads yoga stretches

Parapro Ann Benninghoff leads yoga stretches

“Dahn Mu Do is the art of limitless energy,” explains Ann after a 45-minute session with students before school on a Friday morning. Ann, a paraprofessional of more then 30 years at Dutch Creek, says a personal interest in yoga led her to the energy-based, non-combative martial art from Korea. “It is non-contact martial arts where you use energy to focus and concentrate.”

Ann started leading students in the stretching and breathing exercises of yoga last school year after noticing many kids were showing up to school early with nothing to do. “I saw there were a lot of kids hanging around before school, and so I thought yoga would be a good thing to bring in.”

Black belt instructor Jim Caudill

Black belt instructor Jim Caudill

Ann soon enlisted the help of Jim Caudill, the instructor of her adult class, to teach children the Dahn Mu Do movements made with wooden swords. Jim had never worked with kids before, but he needed to do an outreach project as part of his second-degree black belt program. Ann suggested he come help her at the school.

“Jim said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it a couple of times.’ Well, he’s been here ever since. He loves the kids and he’s very good with the kids,” Ann said.

Ann and Jim run the class three mornings each week, and have seen it grow from a handful of students to a group of 20. Victoria Rodriguez attends the class with her older brother Joaquin.

Joaquin and Rodriguez

Joaquin and Victoria Rodriguez

“It’s a place that helps you calm down in school and have a little bit of fun,” Victoria said. “It helps me calm down in school when something is really hard.”

“You come here to relax,” said Joaquin. “All the things we do are kind of like brain teasers that wake my brain up and get me ready for the day.”

The power of martial arts and yoga to relax and focus students before the start of the school day is helping them to succeed in classroom studies, according to classmates Garin Brown and Alysha Price.

“I think it really helps me get my work done,” said Garin. “It relaxes our brains in the morning so we can have a fresh start in the day, a better start.”

Garin Brown

Garin Brown

“I have a hard time remembering things,” Alysha admitted, but credits Dahn Mu Do exercises in the morning with helping her concentrate later in the day. “Remembering all my forms really helps me to think in school, because I have to think of this really early in the morning.”

“If you get really good at memorizing the things in here, it gets easier for you to memorize other things,” Garin added.

Ann said teachers of her Dahn Mu Do students tell her about the positive changes they see in the classroom.

“When the kids come to class, they’re more ready to settle down, they’re more ready to get to work, they’re more focused,” said Ann. “Some of our kids in special reading groups have seen a marked increase in achievement. Some of them have achieved to the point of being able to get out of the special reading class.”

Math scores are up as well.

“It helps with their reasoning abilities,” said Ann. “They learn certain steps and certain sequences of [Dahn Mu Do], it just goes over into math and the sequencing of math steps.”

Alysha Price

Alysha Price

And while the martial arts and yoga routines are enhancing the students’ abilities in the academic world, they also have a bit of fun doing them.

“We’re hurrying to do this, and we’re hurrying to do this, and Dahn Mu Do gives them a little bit of a breather where they can just have some fun in an academic situation, and get settled down to do the academic,” Ann said.

When asked about his favorite part of Dahn Mu Do, Garin said, “I like the swords part, and I like to do it really fast because it feels fun.”

It’s also fun to tell other kids you get to use a sword in school.

“People kind of look at me like I’m crazy when I say that,” said Alysha.

Dahn Mu Do3Ann thanked parents for supporting the program by getting their kids to school early, noting some parents are already looking to sign their kids up for a summer martial arts program. See video of Ann Benninghoff’s Dahn Mu Do class at Dutch Creek Elementary on CEA’s YouTube channel.

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