June 16, 2024

BOONE — Watauga High School’s senior counselor Wes Calbreath is offering a self-defense class for students during the spring and fall semesters to help make young women feel safer throughout the entirety of their lives.

The class educates participants about common red flags, grooming techniques and provides a safe space to share experiences and thoughts.

Calbreath has trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and in nonviolent crisis intervention. He said he hopes to lower the rates of sexual assault while building and expanding his self-defense program.

“In North Carolina, 16 percent of high school girls are victims of sexual violence by the end of their high school career,” Calbreath said.

The class does not exclusively focus on physical self-defense as it is taught in three parts. Each section incorporates a variety of topics, such as ways to prevent assault, how to spot grooming tactics and an emphasis on setting personal boundaries.

Calbreath stated the importance of setting personal physical boundaries and limits before someone is in a situation where they could be compromised.

Classes that teach topics that differ from a traditional curriculum are important, Calbreath said, which can also be good for students heading to college or the workplace after high school.

“I need to learn how to protect myself,” said senior and participant of the class Ellary Maiden. “Hopefully, I will never be in a situation where I have to use what I’ve learned, but I feel safer knowing that I have some techniques I can use.”

The tactics taught during the self-defense portion of the class are easy to learn and designed to be effective during dangerous situations, according to Maiden.

“We focus on tactics that are high percentage and low risk that will help you get out of a bad situation and they’re chosen specifically because they don’t require power,” Calbreath said. “They take advantage of size differential and they are designed to work effectively when there is a size differential.”

The classes are currently offered to female students and their mothers. It has been offered to all students, but female students are generally more interested in participating in the class.

“I think it’s just much better to be educated and prepared for something potentially scary or unknown rather than just wonder in fear,” said Maiden’s mother, Sabena Maiden. “As for me, it had been a long time since I had gone through this kind of training.”

Calbreath said he tries to make a point that self-defense is important for everyone.

“I’ve offered a boys’ class, but I don’t have many of the boys taking me up on it,” Calbreath said.

If male students became interested in the course, the classes would remain separated by gender due to the different rates of sexual assault along with the typical needs for different genders.

“With the guys, a lot of the time we talk about how to be a good ally and how to be a good partner,” Calbreath said.

The total cost for taking the class is $10 per pair and all proceeds are directly donated to OASIS of Boone.

“The only money I collect is a deposit for OASIS,” Calbreath said. “I donate to them each time and end up making about a $400 donation to OASIS each year.”

OASIS, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that assists with domestic violence and sexual violence for Watauga and Avery counties. They provide resources for individuals in various unsafe situations.

“What I like about Mr. Calbreaths’s class is that not only does it focus on the protection aspect of yourself but it also educates on healthy relationships, consent and boundaries,” said Kellie Bass, the rape prevention education coordinator for OASIS. “Those couple of things are some of the most important parts of prevention as far as sexual and dating violence goes.”

As someone who works with individuals who have survived and are going through unsafe and abusive situations, Bass feels that self-defense and education about sexual violence are essential.

Bass said OASIS provides hospital response and advocacy for people who have been assaulted or require a rape kit. OASIS also has a shelter for clients who may need help.

Calbreath said he feels that his class is one of the most important classes students can participate in.

“For someone who spends much of his workday showing his compassionate and intellectual sides, he also knows how to teach you to toss someone on their back,” said Sabena Maiden

Abby Graham is a journalism student with Watauga High School’s student newspaper the Powderhorn. This article was published in collaboration with the Watauga Democrat, Mountain Times Publications and the WHS journalism class.