Making the Grade: Students learn etiquette important to future success

If some Douglas County school students are better behaved at holiday dinner tables this season, they may have the lessons learned in a special class to thank. A few weeks ago, about 75 students from the county’s elementary, middle and high schools spent 90 minutes learning how to hold a fork, how to converse with those sitting nearby and how not to check in on their phones every few seconds.

The lessons in social etiquette had a two-fold purpose, said Trent North, who took over leadership of the district and its 26,000 students six months ago.

“When I first began teaching in 1993, I received a grant from an organization called the Georgia Business Forum and from that we took about 100 students, housed them on a college campus for about a week and had CEOs of different companies come up with an agenda for them,” he said. “One of the trainings we provided was on etiquette and it was the students’ favorite. I always said if I was able to work with students on soft skills – and etiquette is one of those – and found someone gifted in that training, I’d make it available to as many to students as possible.”

Trent invited students who are part of his advisory council from the elementary, middle and high schools to participate in the class that was held at the district’s offices in Douglasville. The sessions were held for about 25 students from each level on three different days, and each meeting was led by Nia Brown of Majestic Etiquette in Douglasville.

“She talked about different cultures and how they approach etiquette differently – just like they’re having that talk with Meghan Markle now about the difference in etiquette between our country and Prince Harry’s,” said North. “She showed them things like how to hold utensils and how to break off a piece of bread, then walked around the room and talked to each of them about it. And the questions the students asked were really good.”

Brown, who recently became a certified consultant through the National School of Etiquette and Protocol, has been conducting etiquette training for girls for several years and found the Douglas students were enthusiastic learners.

“They were eager and very inquisitive, wanting to know things like why you should turn your knife toward the inside of the plate,” she said. “The high schoolers were interested in learning about social etiquette and most questions were about interviewing skills and how to interact with prospective employers.”

Giving youngsters an insight into what those employers expect in the way of professional behavior was a key component of the class.

“Students learned how to introduce themselves to people they didn’t know, how to extend their hand for a handshake, how to make eye contact and how to enter a room,” said Brown. “And we talked a lot about how, in this technology-driven age, there’s a tendency to bring devices to the table and constantly check messages. We homed in on enjoying the pleasure of the company of those with whom you’re eating and how that should take priority. Etiquette isn’t a set of arbitrary rules; it’s really about showing respect to others.”

North was pleased that the focus of the class was as much about being respectful and considerate of others as it was about navigating a place setting.

“As we continue to eat on the run, this generation of students is missing out on how to sit down and enjoy a formal meal with conversation” he said. “But those are skills that are important to our culture. I’m going to do the same class with my senior staff, and I’m figuring out how to increase the number of kids each year who can have access to this training. That’s how important it is to their success.”

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