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Children gather before giving a presentation to their parents about manners at a kindergarten manners dinner dance at Back Creek Christian Academy.
Children gather before giving a presentation to their parents about manners at a kindergarten manners dinner dance at Back Creek Christian Academy. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

The valedictorian of her school may know how to conjugate a verb in three languages, but does she know with which fork she should eat her salad? What about the star quarterback? Does he know the proper way to introduce himself to another, in addition to scoring the winning touchdown? If these kids are involved with any number of UCity organizations, schools and churches that are now participating in the latest trend to actively educate kids and teens about the importance of manners and etiquette, then the answer is most certainly a polite, “Yes, ma’am!”

Starting earlyFrom the very first day of kindergarten, students at Back Creek Christian Academy (BCCA) begin learning about good manners as teachers work to incorporate the lessons into all activities with their students. The culmination of those lessons is an annual Manners Dinner and Dance in which the kindergarteners demonstrate what they have learned.“This was our fifth year for our Manners Dinner and Dance, and we’ve improved upon it every year,” says BCCA kindergarten teacher Lauren Stikeleather. “It’s amazing how the concept evolved from teaching simple table etiquette in the first year to now becoming a yearlong theme of learning to live in a community in a way that honors God and shows respect and love to one another. “And now besides focusing on just table manners, students help set the tables, make the centerpieces and place cards for each table, write and illustrate their own manners book, and perform songs and poems about the importance of good manners. We keep it fun by teaching the students dances like The Electric Slide, YMCA, Hokey Pokey and The Chicken Dance. They also learn how to partner dance with one another.”The event also serves as an opportunity for older students to demonstrate their etiquette skills, as fifth through eighth graders are servers at the dinner.“Our first dinner and dance was done when this year’s fifth graders were in kindergarten, so it was really moving to see them make the transition to being the servers and hear their stories about when they were the ones being served,” says Stikeleather. Though the dinner/dance is the main event for BCCA students to apply their skills, they are still expected to practice their good manners wherever they are.“Whenever we find a teachable moment, we use it to emphasize the importance of good manners and etiquette to our students and praise them when they have done well. For example, if a staff member walks by a student should make eye contact and say hello – and the staff member should recognize the student’s initiative.”

Being a good sportFor kids participating in sports programs at the University City YMCA, cultivating good manners is the first step in building sportsmanship. Coaches and parents work together to model good manners, sportsmanship and fairness in ways that the kids can emulate.“Parents do a great job of modeling sportsmanship by cheering for and encouraging members of the other team. It shows a great sense of community on the field and kids recognize that,” says Molly Thompson, communications and public relations senior director for YMCA of Greater Charlotte and University City YMCA sports parent.Brian Rosen, University City YMCA sports director, emphasizes that the coaches help kids achieve sportsmanship by teaching them, as well as exhibiting the Y’s core values of caring, honesty, respect, responsibility and faith.“Through caring, our kids learn to care about both their teammates and opponents. When knocked down, we teach our kids to pick the opponent back up. Honesty is shown when kids openly admit to touching a ball that goes out of bounds,” explains Rosen. “Respect is taught and shown to coaches, parents, officials, players and opponents at all times. Responsibility is asking players to take ownership of their tasks. At every age, we want our children to be given a ‘duty’ on the court or field and put them in positions to succeed. Faith is shown before every game and practice with prayers and devotions.”And, at the end of the day, these kids learn that it’s not about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.“Sportsmanship teaches kids that wins and losses are not the most important thing,” says Rosen. “What is important is that every time you step on the field for practice or games, you can improve and make the people around you better. This helps develop them into successful adults who understand the importance of strong relationships and togetherness.”

Raising the leaders of tomorrowUCity resident Wanda Moonie has worked to teach the same type of lessons to young girls in the area through the local council of the Girl Scouts. A volunteer with the organization for nearly 30 years, she has taken her daughters and her granddaughters through the program. Now the director of volunteer services for Girl Scouts, Hornets’ Nest Council, Moonie believes that Girl Scouting is really about preparing young girls to be leaders.“To be an effective leader, you have to know how to work with others and how to conduct yourself in a poised and confident manner.”To help achieve the ultimate goal of creating leaders, Girl Scouts offers a variety of programs that encourage girls to develop personal and interpersonal skills. Polite Kids 101 is a curriculum designed specifically for the youngest Girl Scouts – the Daisy and Brownie. “The program addresses social skills, such as telephone etiquette, table manners, good sportsmanship, community manners and classroom consideration,” says Moonie.

“When a young girl understands who she is and feels good about her value, she is more likely to make good lifestyle choices and when making her choices she is mindful of the impact those choices have on herself and others,” says Moonie. “In our Girl Scout Law we say that we will ‘do our best to be friendly, helpful, considerate, caring, responsible for what we say and do, and that we will be respectful of ourselves and others.’ These are all qualities that when pooled together can only strengthen our communities and our world.”

Etiquette expertiseMaster image, etiquette, communications and leadership coach and UCity resident Gloria Starr says that parents should begin teaching their children manners from a very early age.“Parents can start teaching their children manners as soon as they learn to pick up a spoon and feed themselves. Manners can mean using the silverware properly, saying hello to someone, introducing themselves, answering the telephone, sharing toys, making friends and showing respect for their parents, teachers, friends and their personal belongings,” says Starr. “Good manners means making their bed, taking their dishes to the kitchen, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and being obedient. Having good manners also means being a contributing person in family dynamics – the younger, the better. This prevents the child from repeating unacceptable ways of doing things and conditioning them to do them well and properly.”Starr, who has been the leading provider of impression management, etiquette and communication seminars worldwide since 1983, offers a Modern Day Finishing School for Teens. The two-day seminar allows 12 teens to learn about topics such as image and personal style; poise, polish, presence and posture; being a contributing family member; respect and common courtesy; dining etiquette; and communication skills, including email, instant chat and cell phone etiquette.Regardless of the age of the child, Starr believes that learning manners is essential. “Manners are about making others feel comfortable. Manners build confidence and self-esteem and can increase the popularity of a child.”

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