OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — An elementary school lunchroom is no place for queasy stomachs.
Teachers have heard and seen it all — vegetables crammed in ears and milk oozing from noses.
Emily Post is likely to shudder at some conversations as children try their best to impress one another.
But in a world where educators are pushed to devote more time to math and reading, an Olathe elementary school decided manners and etiquette matter, too.
“If you spend any time in an elementary school lunchroom then you see all kinds of things that make you squirm a little bit,” said Northview Elementary Principal Todd Wheat.
The school decided to carve out the lunch hour to impress etiquette and proper table skills upon its students.
Sure, manners might not be a requirement of No Child Left Behind or even the sixth grade, but Northview Elementary sees the value.
“It’s a life skill,” said teacher Kathy Walter.
Manners go a long way. Etiquette and table skills are important.
There are job interviews to consider.
There are friends to make.
And eventually, dates.
“I didn’t say the word ‘dating’ because they’ll gag,” Walter said.
Wheat recruited Walter, who retired three years ago, to lead the dining club during the school’s lunch hour. The group started small with 12 students and met once a week to go over basic concepts. The school hopes to expand the program next year. The group included the third, fourth and fifth grades, Wheat said.
“We talked about the fact that all manners are about showing respect. And that part of showing respect is polite conversation. We don’t talk about gross things. We don’t talk about disgusting things,” Walter said.
Walter encouraged them to ask one another engaging questions and avoid monopolizing the conversation.
The students had homework that required them to set the dinner table at least three times a week, pull out the chair for their mother or grandmother and place their napkin in their lap each night. She asked them to avoid distractions, including texting during dinner.
The class culminated on a recent day when the students put their skills to use by having lunch at the Ritz Charles in Overland Park.
The students were treated to a three-course feast where they could show off their abilities to navigate around the bread plate, water goblets and multiple spoons and forks. The dining club was served on white linen tablecloths and dined on salad, mango chicken and chocolate mousse served in a martini-style glass.
Parents, who were invited, were thrilled with the class.
Stephanie Hopson said her twins, Breyana and Breyon Townsend, 9, loved sharing their knowledge around the dinner table at home. On a recent night they even unwrapped their utensils at IHOP and set the table properly. There were many other principles they learned.
“Can you please pass the food?” Breyana offered as an example.
Instead of: “Pass the food!” Breyon said.
Other students were excited to share their newfound skills.
“I put my napkin on my leg,” said Carley Knight, 9. “I chew with my mouth closed. And I don’t talk while I’m chewing. But my dad does that.”
“I learned about the table setting and how to always pass food clockwise,” said 9-year-old Michael Schlem.
His mother, Katherine Schlem, said the class provided lifelong memories as well. Michael, who has Asperger’s syndrome, pulled out chairs for family members at a recent anniversary dinner.
“It made me very proud,” she said.
Many parents sheepishly admitted that the children have taught them a thing or two about table manners. Some carefully tucked away ringing cellphones, and one nervously blushed as she worried about messing up.
Others laughed remembering the lessons their grandmothers emphasized.
“It’s not like women are shipped off to etiquette school anymore,” said mother Misti Edwards, who remembers balancing a book on her head.
Walter worries that manners will be a lost art soon.
“It’s kind of hard to do it in the drive-through,” she said.
Walter taught for 32 years and understands that sitting down at the dinner table for a meal isn’t easy and not entirely practical for many families. Table manners aren’t always stressed.
Wheat knows his school and his performance won’t be graded on “please” and “thank you,” but he believes it can’t hurt either.
“We’re always trying to work with our students on their social emotional skills, and this is just another avenue for us to talk about what’s appropriate and what’s not,” Wheat said.
“Our district’s vision is preparing students for their future,” he said. “We have high expectations for these kiddos.”