breaking barriers and boards through Taekwondo

When Berony Raysan was introduced to Taekwondo more than 40 years ago, he was an 11-year-old student struggling in school in his native country of Haiti. He was instantly drawn to the Korean martial art, quickly gaining skills in the dojang, which he applied in the classroom, and in life. “Taekwondo taught me to learn and focus,” he says. “It taught me that anything is possible with discipline.”

Mr. Raysan quickly improved his academic and martial arts skills and moved up the ranks. He was named a member of the Haitian national Taekwondo team, leading to a lifelong career as a Taekwondo youth instructor, which now spans over 30 years. Since 2008, he has served as a key member of BELL’s enrichment team as head Taekwondo instructor.

Three days a week in the free after-school and summer program, he teaches scholars self-defense moves, stretches, kicks, and punches. But more importantly, he bestows knowledge and wisdom on the power of discipline, dedication, respect, and focus; important skills scholars use to overcome academic and life challenges. One kick at a time, Mr. Raysan introduces young scholars to the marvels of a martial art, which transformed his own life trajectory.

A fourth-degree black belt, Mr. Raysan uses Taekwondo to instill confidence within the scholars who are struggling academically. “Sometimes when they don’t do well on a particular day in school, they may feel down,” he says. “I make sure to commend them when they do something right in Taekwondo and that gives them confidence."

This approach has certainly paid off for 8-year old Thanh Ly, a third-grade scholar. Thanh has been attending BELL since she was in Kindergarten and is in her second year of learning Taekwondo, her favorite enrichment activity. BELL has helped Thanh maintain her good grades in math and English, and boost her self-confidence and communication skills.

In front of her class, she recently demonstrated her Ap Chagior front kick technique, splitting a board in half. “When I used to come here, I was shy. I didn’t think I could do it. This makes me feel strong and proud,” she says confidently.

When Thanh first enrolled in the program, she spoke limited English, making it a challenge for her to interact with peers and educators. John Nguyen, BELL’s Director of Program Operations, says the program has helped boost Thanh's social emotional skills by challenging her to problem solve and communicate with others.

“During enrichment, scholars have to communicate with each other,” Nguyen says. “She expresses herself more and is not afraid to communicate her needs or concerns. Thanh has found her voice.” 

At home, Thanh’s father has noticed a positive difference in her self-confidence since becoming a BELL scholar. As a self-employed electrician, Mr. Ly's flexible schedule enables him to be home in the afternoon when school ends. Yet rather than being home, Thanh prefers to be in the BELL program, learning, growing, and having fun. “She loves coming to BELL and there is absolutely no arguing with her,” Mr. Ly says in Vietnamese with a laugh.

Stories of Impact

Make sure to check in from time to time as Beyond will evolve throughout the year, with new stories of impact.

Breaking barriers through Taekwondo.

Thanh Ly, a third grade scholar, has found her inner strength and voice through Taekwondo enrichment. One kick at a time, she is gaining skills and applying them in the classroom, and in life.


A safe haven for scholars to succeed.

Violence is a topic all too familiar to Daniel Brown's family. So when she heard of BELL, she quickly enrolled her children, joining a growing group of parents who see BELL as a safe haven for scholars to blossom. 


Serving a growing family, one scholar at a time.

With three scholars enrolled in BELL, and a fourth child on the way, BELL provides the Castillos with peace of mind, enabling them to work extra hours to provide a solid foundation for their family.


Creating community in the classroom.

Scholar success boils down to relationships, says Nancy Kelly, a fourth grade math teacher. Through BELL, she is nurturing stronger relationships with her current students, and forging new ones with her future class.


Dad: Parent involvement is key to success.

Parental engagement, a key variable in BELL’s equation for scholar success, comes to life in this feature story. “If fathers are not involved, that’s a problem,” Mr. Bishop says.


Former scholar. Current leader.

Follow Tanisha's journey from a fifth grade BELL scholar to a key BELL staff member. Now, as a mother, she is applying her learnings from BELL and changing her daughter Sirhye's life trajectory.