Kickstart program develops well-rounded students through focus on respect, discipline

Alexis Martinez

The Kickstart Kids program started 25 years ago as a way to teach responsibility and character development in addition to building self-esteem by engaging kids in a school-based activity. The program’s tagline is “character through karate” and aims to develop the entire student as it reaches over 8,500 students in 56 schools across Texas.

This year marks the first time Kickstart has included 5th graders as it was added into the intermediate programs within Bryan ISD when the school structure changed to put 5th and 6th grade at an intermediate campus. This will provide students with an additional year to work toward their black belts during school through 8th grade. For some students though, the program doesn’t end there, and they continue to pursue the next level even after they enter high school.

Senior Isabel Jimenez is currently a second degree black belt and has been involved with the Kickstart program for the past six years and hopes to become an instructor one day. Although she has excelled in the program, it’s not the color belt in which she takes the most pride.

“Kickstart taught me real life,” Isabel said. “It’s not just about the physical, but more about mentally pushing myself. My instructor would push me to keep my grades up and focus on the classroom and always taught me that focusing on my character was more important than focusing on my accomplishments.”

Isabel has faced her share of obstacles within the Kickstart program but has learned how to face adversity in stride.

“I failed my second degree black belt pre-test the first time,” Isabel said. “I pushed myself the most after that. I couldn’t bear to look at myself, but my instructor picked me up and told me that he believe in me. I practiced and practiced over the summer, and the next time I took the test, I passed. I was drained during the process, but it’s the idea of mind over matter that caused me to reflect and push myself even harder.”

Sophomore Shannon Keyser earned her first degree black belt in the fall semester of this year after participating in Kickstart since 6th grade and appreciates the opportunity to be involved with the program.

“I always wanted to do martial arts but I never really found a way to get into it, so when I heard about Kickstart I thought it would be a great way to be involved,” Shannon said. “I want to be able to defend myself and stay active in a non-traditional way.”

Throughout Kickstart, Shannon has seen students reap the benefits of the program.

“I’ve seen kids become more responsible and take initiative where they may not have before, while also becoming more disciplined,” Shannon said. “If a kid is not being respectful, their instructor will find out and work it out with you to try and fix your behavior.”

Having reached the level of black belt, Shannon continues to look forward to what comes next as she trains and works on her craft.

“I definitely want to continue it through high school, but I am involved with IB, figure skating, girl scouts and my church,” Shannon said. “I’m hoping I’ll continue to find time to fit it in. I don’t know if I will be able to do it during college, but I’ll have to look and see if there’s a place I can go.”

Freshman Abby Mendez also sees the benefits of Kickstart and how it helps mold students into more productive individuals.

“A big part of Kickstart is respect. Every belt that students earn has a different attribute that they learn about and work on,” Abby said. “The program also teaches work ethic, discipline, and responsibility as it helps students become more self-reliant.”

The nine belts represent things like respect, kindness, and honesty to name a few and contribute to the programs aims of developing a well-rounded student.

“Focusing on student character in addition to the discipline of karate sets the program apart from more traditional physical education programs in schools.” Abby said. “I recommend the Kickstart program to any 5th grader looking to be challenged both physically and mentally as it is a good way to establish personal discipline.”