By Paula Ebben

BOSTON (CBS) – Sometimes teaching elementary school age children means helping them with behavioral issues, as much as teaching them math and spelling. At the Holmes Innovation School in Dorchester, the sport of boxing has been an innovative way to make discipline and self control part of the school day. At this school, when it comes to thinking outside of the box it means thinking inside the ring.

“It’s an amazing experience. I learn as much from the kids as they do from me,” said Coach James Lena of Red Line Fight Sports in Cambridge.

With more than 300 kids in kindergarten to fifth grade, with full inclusion, social challenges are a constant sparring partner.

boxing e1519682609224 Eye On Education: Boxing Teaches Students Discipline, Self Control

A student at the Holmes Innovation School boxing with Coach Lena. (WBZ-TV)

“It was life changing. We were struggling with how we support students who struggle the most behaviorally and we were spinning our wheels,” Principal Yeshi Gaskin Lamour said.

Janelle Ridley, a program manager for the Boston schools, told the principal how she had been successful with her son.

“I have a 7 year old son and he started boxing with me when he was 4,” Ridley said.

“She said ‘Hey, my son boxed and it really helped him out. Why don’t we try it? Why don’t we go for it?’ and I was willing to try anything,” Principal Lamour said.

Several years ago the Holmes Innovation School would have up to 150 disciplinary problems reported to the principal’s office within the first few weeks of school. Since the boxing program began, they have seen those numbers drop by 30%.

“Boxing was something that could be accessible to all children right away,” Principal Lamour said.

Forty-five students, some in crisis, box twice a week with Coach James Lena. The students’ grades have gone up and they are clamoring for more.

“It’s not only a social/emotional intervention for us it’s also tied to academics. We want to make sure kids are still achieving at high levels and we don’t want them to think this is separate from that,” Lamour said. “They’re even more responsible than we are, we used to have to call them ‘it’s boxing time!’  now they’re just present.”

“It teaches you how to defend yourself and it gives you motivation to get excited,” Isaiah Ballah, a third grader at the school said.

“It is a great gift to everyone in the neighborhood that comes to this school,” one parent said.

The program comes out of the school’s operating budget, but they also have a fundraiser every year, which is coming up soon.

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