Capture the flag, kickball and prisoner are typical activities for physical education programs across the nation, including Archer’s. However, in addition to traditional activities, Archer teaches eighth and 10th grade students self-defense skills as part of the fitness and wellness curriculum.
Starting in 2007, former Fitness and Wellness Department Chair Kristen Benjamin and fitness and wellness teacher Stephanie Ferri, current chair, became interested in a self-defense course for Archer students. They did an observation at Marlborough School, who use the company Impact Personal Safety, to research their curriculum and inclusion of self-defense.
“We were looking to build new opportunities within our classroom, and because we taught human development we thought it was a really nice tie-in,” Ferri said. “It makes really good sense in 10th grade. A lot of our curriculum is centered around communication, and things like consent play a role in that also.”
The fitness and wellness department choose Impact Personal Safety because it was reputable, especially with its compatibility with all-girls schools. Self-defense instructor Danielle Joy has been an instructor with Impact for three years but has been assisting since she was 15 years old when she initially took the class in 10th grade at Windward School. Joy has been instructing at Archer for three years.
“The fact that self-defense is a required class [at Archer] is huge,” Joy said “It’s something that is important for every young woman to learn learning how to set boundaries with people they know, learning how to set boundaries in their life, and just gaining the confidence to know they are making the right decisions to keep themselves safe throughout the rest of their life. That was the biggest thing I learned, and that’s what I hope to give them.”
With her years of experience, Joy has had time to teach Archer girls the main tenets of Impact’s philosophy. Archer’s self-defense curriculum is comprised of 10 classes, whereas the women’s basics class is a 16-hour course divided between two weekends. Most of the skills Archer girls learn are from the women’s basic class.
“We measure success by seeing if each individual student has grown since the beginning of the class,” Joy said. “It’s not ‘Oh wow, they’re the best fighter in the world.’ It’s ‘They’re better than when they came in.'”
Tenth grader Elle Croker, who took a self-defense course for the first time, characterized the experience as “awesome.”
“I think it’s very important to know how to defend yourself in case you get in a bad situation,” Croker said. “I learned about, just even every day, while walking around what I should be aware of.”
Overall, the fitness department has received positive feedback from Archer girls and parents regarding including self-defense in the fitness and wellness curriculum.
“We have been really happy with the impact. We think their messaging is aligned with [Archer’s] mission and they know our community really well,” Ferri said. “We are trying to empower girls with tools so they are leading their best healthy lives.”