NPHS anti-bullying program teaches students confidence through martial arts

NPHS anti-bullying program teaches students confidence through martial arts

Participating in the Cougar Pause Project, which teaches students how to stand up for themselves, or others, against bullies, are from left, Steve Morrison, 2014 graduate; and students Merissa Mazze, Alexandra Andrade and Valerie Van Nort. (Valley Breeze photos by Jessica Boisclair)

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Students involved in the anti-bullying program at North Providence High School are learning patience, confidence and self-defense through an ancient form of martial arts called Bujinkan Ninpo.

Dating back almost 900 years, this type of martial arts was developed by ninjas "who were being bullied by the samurai," said Andrew Laurie, social studies teacher and co-coordinator of Cougar Pause Project.

"These guys (ninjas) were up in the hills trying to survive, so the whole philosophy is patience and endurance, regardless of what's going on," he said. "Our motto is keep going, no matter what."

Eric Izzi, fellow social studies teacher, and Laurie created the Cougar Pause Project in 2012 as a way to raise awareness about bullying at North Providence High School.

Laurie, who studied Bujinkan Ninpo for 15 years at Boston Martial Arts Center, recently decided to incorporate this style of martial arts into the project.

He said getting involved with martial arts at the age of 12 helped him deal with bullying and "brought me out of my shell, and now I'm a teacher and I stand in front of people all day long."

Izzi said he hears about teenagers committing suicide because of bullying "all too often," and he and Laurie wanted to address this issue. "This is not the way, whether they are in middle or high school, to go through life feeling disempowered," he continued. "We wanted to think of a new way to try to create this program for the kids to get them involved."

Every Tuesday after school, 10 students gather in the hallway with Izzi and Laurie to learn different self-defense techniques.

Izzi added, "Every school, every town in every state in this country has a bullying issue. And we tell the students all the time, 'You don't have to be best friends with everyone, but just don't pick on people.'"

While the students learn how to punch and block, Izzi said, overall the program shows them how to de-escalate a situation instead of being in the offensive or defensive position.

"It's good to teach them how to be calm and focused. And it helps students be more confident, and it gets them moving around and active," he added.

Laurie said confidence is one of the biggest things they try to instill in the students, who tend to lose it when bullied.

He added, "We're trying to spread this idea of confidence, make it OK for kids to see they can be themselves and be confident in who they are and not be afraid of it."

Senior Valerie Van Nort joined the Cougar Pause Project as a freshman and has made it a priority to raise awareness about bullying since then.

"I wanted to work with Cougar Pause to make sure students had a place to go, because when you're in that spot, I know it can get lonely and students lose a lot of confidence. I wanted to show kids there is a way to bring back that confidence," she added.

She even based her senior project around anti-bullying.

Van Nort said she is working with other students and staff in collecting data about bullying and the effect it has on the district.

Newcomer to the group Alexandra Andrade said she wanted to join because she heard it was a great anti-bullying program.

"I wanted to start helping out with that kind of stuff, and it benefits me because I learn how to defend myself and be more confident," she said.

North Providence High School student Alexandra Andrade practices on the bag, held by Cougar Pause Project coordinator and social studies teacher Andrew Laurie.