Every Friday after school at PS 340 in the Kingsbridge Heights section of the Bronx, 20 students march into the school cafeteria and prepare to attack each other with swords.
They are participants in the school’s first-ever fencing club, launched in February 2022 by school psychologist Amy Turchiaro. A dedicated fencer herself — she even has two fencing tattoos — Turchiaro is passionate about introducing the sport she loves to her students.
“It’s the greatest sport in the world,” she says. “It builds a sense of empowerment and pride.”
For most of PS 340’s students, it’s also prohibitively expensive.
“Fencing is typically only available to people with money,” says Turchiaro. “I see this program as really the key to equity for students.”
To start the program, Turchiaro won a $10,000 grant from Signature Bank to fund a professional coach and equipment from her fencing club, the Tim Morehouse Fencing Club.
She had enough space for 20 students in 3rd through 5th grade; 200 applied to join. Why the overwhelming interest?
“They get to play with swords!” Turchiaro says with enthusiasm.
The PS 340 students are learning sabre fencing, the quickest and most aggressive style of fencing. Sabre fencers earn points by striking their opponents assertively on any part of the body above the waist, except for the hands.
During a recent lesson led by fencing instructor Peter Kunz, 10 students donned chest protectors, gloves and stainless steel masks and faced off against each other to practice a “simultaneous attack.” As they crouched in the “en garde” position, Kunz called out, “Advance, advance, lunge!” Students on both sides thrust their blades forward, weapons striking each other with a satisfying clang.
Because Turchiaro has enough gear to outfit only 10 students at a time, she practices footwork with the remaining students. As they work on lunges, they’re strengthening not just their calves but their vocabulary: “Show me the parry four position. Remember, parry means you’re going to block,” Turchiaro reminds them.
Meanwhile, as he gestures to the length of the fencing strip, or piste, Kunz demonstrates another fencing lesson that’s applicable to life: “We need to make sure we’re patient and take our time,” he says. “Only attack when you’re certain.”
Turchiaro is determined to win another grant to expand the PS 340 program next school year, with the ultimate goal of enrolling a few of her most promising fencers in the Peter Westbrook Foundation’s fencing program for students from underserved communities.
“I like doing parry-riposte, I like doing en garde — I like everything about fencing because it shows me what I can do,” says 4th-grader Leandro. “Fencing is part of my heart.”