Middle-school students take a break from academics to learn how to act in public.
Brendan Tetter, 12, of Northdale Middle School, learned to hold a coffee cup at the Majestic Oaks Golf Club. He was among more than 200 students in an enrichment program that included a week’s concentration on manners. The class celebrated and practiced what they learned at a breakfast at the golf club in Ham Lake.
A quick survey of the banquet tables at Majestic Oaks Golf Club found straight postures, proper usage of silverware and elbows off the table. Mostly.
These weren't day golfers, executives or ladies who lunch. No, they were 200 middle-schoolers, who had come for breakfast Thursday and a test of etiquette they'd been taught earlier in the week.
The lessons were incorporated into Discover U, a program for promising Anoka-Hennepin seventh- and eighth-graders that normally focuses on activities to improve achievement in reading, math and science.
The inspiration for the manners tutorial came from teachers who had been on field trips with the students. There was much that students didn't know, such as not to ask speakers how much they earn, or to wait to get on an elevator until riders get off.
"You see every day that manners are not the best," said Stephanie Pogalz, a Discover U math teacher who is based out of Northdale Elementary School during the school year. She and her colleagues at five of the district's six middle schools put together their own programs before meeting up at Majestic Oaks in Ham Lake on Thursday.
At Northdale, students learned Monday and Tuesday about dining etiquette, what to do with place settings, how to eat bread, scoop soup, how to start a polite conversation. They learned about interview etiquette, to show up early, to send thank-you notes, plus phone manners, flag etiquette and more.
"I think at first they were kind of like, 'Manners? What does that have to do with math?'" Pogalz said. "But as we got into it, they saw there were things they didn't know and could learn."
As students finished their meals Thursday, they reflected on some of the things they'd learned. Among them:
• That forks go on the left. (Perhaps trumping practicality. "Most people are right-handed, so it should be on the right," said Bailey Pieri, 12, from Anoka Middle School for the Arts.)
• That silverware placed on the plate from 10 o'clock to 4 o'clock signals to the server that you're done, reflected Jesse Akea, 11, also from Anoka Middle School for the Arts. ("Jesse! The small plate!" his tablemates chided. Chagrined, he transferred the utensils from his dinner plate to his bread plate.)
• What constitutes appropriate dinner conversations. Pets, yes. Roadkill, no, said Bruce Piechowski, 13, from Northdale Middle School.
• The trick to figuring out which water to drink and which bread plate to use. Reese Foster, 13, from Northdale, formed letters with his thumbs and index fingers: The b-shape on the left hand meant the bread is on the left, and the d-shape on the right meant the drink is on the right.
One of the best surprises came for Northdale student learning advocate Peace Mitchell. Upon excusing herself from the table of boys she was chaperoning, she saw that each one stood to mark the departure of a lady.
"I was really proud," she said. "They stood up when I came back, too."
Many of the students interviewed said they had begun to notice their own etiquette errors, and those of their friends and siblings.
Andie Takkunen, 12, from Anoka Middle School for the Arts, said that she recently caught her brother licking his plate, something she might not have thought much about before taking the class.
"It still would have been gross, but I wouldn't have noticed it," she said.
Matthew Kinfu, 13, from the same school, said he thought his friends knew proper manners.
"They might, but they don't use them unless they're eating somewhere nice," he said. "I'll tell them to start using their manners, like eating with their mouths closed."
And would that go over well?
"If I told them nicely," he said.
Banquet server Ann Lees addressed the group.
She acted out her initial reaction to 200 middle-schoolers for breakfast: an eye roll and a slump. But she had changed her mind.
"You guys really have fantastic behavior," she said, reflecting on the number of pleases and thank-yous she'd heard. "Better than some of the adults we wait on."
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409