There are warriors among the student population at Salmon Arm Secondary.
Roughly 15 aboriginal students had the chance to live up to the name given to them by coach Peggy Maerz by participating in the first-ever boxing program.
“I named them warriors for a bunch of reasons. It was recognition to who they are as aboriginal students and to how I want them to view themselves. Not that they are fighters against things, but that they fight to survive and thrive in life. That they can use these tools to protect their spirits and their self-worth.”
Beginning this February, the students spent one hour each Tuesday under Maerz’s tutelage learning boxing skills.
“What was really amazing was that I never had to go looking for these kids, they would be waiting Tuesday morning in my office, ready to go. I was floored by their amazing dedication. These are kids who can struggle with getting to class, but come Tuesday they were always waiting,” says Melanie Jansen, an aboriginal education worker.
The program originated when Jansen attended a workshop on healthy living and obtained a grant from the Aboriginal Sport, Recreation & Physical Activity Partners Council, which was to support healthy living.
“We have high-risk kids, kids who may struggle with anger management, so I knew we needed to do something physical, to give them an outlet,” says Jansen.
After talking with one of the school counsellors, she approached Maerz about boxing. A no-nonsense trainer, Maerz got started right away.
“I pushed their edges,” says Maerz. “At first they would come in here with their guards full up. There was not one smile the first time I met them. There wasn’t one person in this room who didn’t feel like quitting. But as they started to work out, as they started to accomplish things, the sweaty smiles would fill their faces.”
One of those students was Jamie August.
The soft-spoken teen came into the class and would hardly make eye contact with Maerz.
“I pushed her to make eye contact with me, with people. To speak with confidence and talk louder because she has important things to say,” says Maerz.
Boxing has given August a sense of pride in accomplishment.
“I never would have thought I could work out like that for a whole hour,” she says. “After coming here my mood would change and, after, I’d feel like I wanted to go do something. Like I had this energy to do something,” she says.
Fellow Grade 9 student Skylar Bailey says the class really helped with stress.
“It’s like you let it out, so you can be more calm when you got back to school. You let all your anger and frustration out on Tuesday and you don’t get all wound into the drama like I might have before. If I was having trouble, then I’d know there was next Tuesday coming.”
Maerz also spoke of how she taught the students that with knowledge about boxing comes the responsibility to exercise self control.
“We had conversations that sometimes the most courageous thing to do is walk away. I’m not here breeding bullies, I’m empowering people.”
Jansen says the program is far and away the most beneficial she’s ever been involved with in her career.
“They learned things, important life things like self confidence and self esteem, without even realizing it. There used to be a lot of frustration, a lot of locker punching. I don’t know the last time I heard someone punch a locker.”
Jansen says the outlet has been so helpful, they have now purchased some target mitts and gloves for use in the aboriginal education room.
The group has also engaged beyond the gym to where they decided to participate in the June 21 Ride Don’t Hide event for mental health, which is also Aboriginal Day.
“It’s been so satisfying to see them now want to connect with their community, to be a part of Salmon Arm at large,” says Maerz.
While Jansen is hoping to have her grant funding for the program renewed, it does not cover the costs of running the program for the full year. They are now looking for other sources of funding to run the program in September and possibly expand it beyond the Jackson campus students to include those at Sullivan campus.
Anyone interested in assisting with funding the program can contact Jansen at Salmon Arm Secondary at 250-832-2188.