As Peace Mitchell excused herself from the breakfast table at a July 5 event at Majestic Oaks Golf Course, the six young men sitting at her table stood up as she pulled away her chair.
This wasn’t something Mitchell, the student learning advocate at Northdale Middle School (NMS) asked the students to do, it’s something they had learned earlier in the week as part of Discover U’s “etiquette week.”
A five-week summer program, Discover U is designed for students with high academic potential.
The course encourages students to take and succeed in advanced-level classes throughout the school year.
Of the 305 students participating in Discover U in 2011, 213 went on to take advanced classes in the 2011-12 school year.
The idea for etiquette week came to Discover U’s coordinator, Lynn Jaeck, when she saw a recent graduate dressed in a coat and tie at a meeting for Future Leaders, the high school students hired to work with the Discover U program.
Jaeck asked the young man what the special occasion was and learned he was a Wallin Scholar who had a meeting with his benefactor at a country club.
(Wallin Scholars receive $4,000 a year for each year of their college education plus an adviser. This year 37 Anoka-Hennepin School District graduates received scholarships from the Wallin Education Partners.)
From that interaction, Jaeck and Discover U teachers ran with the idea.
It was decided that students would have two days of etiquette instruction culminating with a formal breakfast.
The event for about 60 Jackson Middle School (JMS) students was at the Northland Inn in Brooklyn Park and about 200 students from NMS, Anoka Middle School for the Arts (AMSA) and Coon Rapids Middle School (CRMS) went to Majestic Oaks Golf Club in Ham Lake.
Stephanie Pogalz was one of the Discover U teachers to work on etiquette week.
Pogalz, a seventh-grade math teacher at NMS, said students played a “Jeopardy” game with categories such as cell phone/texting, flag and job interview etiquette.
Students also heard from speakers, including Michael Birchard, the chief diversity and affirmative action officer at North Hennepin Community College.
Birchard, who is Mitchell’s husband, spoke about etiquette in a variety of settings as well as how to shake hands.
Pogalz said students also saw a PowerPoint discussing acceptable etiquette in different cultures.
To get ready for the breakfast at Majestic Oaks, students cut out place settings to learn where silverware, plates and glasses go.
Pogalz also spoke about rules for eating at a restaurant and students role played different situations.
“This is an opportunity for students to have a meal at a fancy restaurant,” Pogalz said.
“We gave them the prep work so they knew what was appropriate behavior and what was expected of them.”
While almost all of the six NMS boys at Mitchell’s table had been to a similar sit-down meal, like a wedding reception, they were ready to put what they learned that week to use.
They said they learned when to put the napkin on their laps, to pass to the left and no elbows on the table.
“My mom said, ‘you’ve got to go to that class,’” Gavin Ovshak said when he told his mother about etiquette week. “She said it’s important to learn more about manners.”
According to Mitchell, it was a good experience for the students to be in a formal setting.
“During the week we talked a lot about what it will be like when they apply for scholarships and have to go to dinners,” Mitchell said.
“We also talked about being comfortable at weddings and funerals, settings where someone might be nervous about how to act. Having this was good, it was a nice hands-on way to apply what they learned.”
The exercise was also a good learning experience for Discover U’s Future Leaders.
Birki Yousuf, who will be a senior at Blaine High School, said manners are important and etiquette week was fun and educational at the same time.
“Life requires manners and discipline,” Yousuf said. “Proper etiquette and manners will get you a long way in life. This week helped kids to see it’s a serious matter.”
Kim Benson, Majestic Oaks’ event manager, works with a variety of people.
In her position, Benson sees a little bit of everything and said it goes a long way when people are polite.
“I hope the students had fun at Majestic Oaks and learned about using good manners when they are out and about,” Benson said.
At the end of the event one of the staff, Ann Lees, spoke to the students.
Lees, who has worked as a server for 20 years, told the students they were better behaved than some adults.
She complimented students for saying, “thank you,” “please” and “excuse me,” and using their silverware to communicate with staff whether they were still eating or finished with their meals.
“When we saw 200 middle school students were coming today we thought, ‘oh no,’” Lees said, “but you were amazing.”