Nine dressed-up girls and 11 boys enjoyed civil conversations before dinner.
They dined in the library at Quindaro Elementary School with teachers and other adults serving them. The meal brought together fourth- and fifth-grade young ladies in the new Etiquette Class at the school and third-, fourth- and fifth-grade boys in The Gents Class.
Michael Harris, 35, invited me to the Kansas City, Kan., school to see the extra efforts of teachers and other adults in shaping children into good citizens.
“The goal of this organization is to give back to the community,” he said.
I got to know Harris and his twin brother, Marcus, in 1995 when they were freshmen at Washington High School in Kansas City, Kan.
I studied with their Class of 1999 from the students’ freshman year until they graduated to learn what it was like to be a teen and teacher. Harris now wants to be that involved and more in young people’s lives. As we talked, he showed several boys how to tie neckties and properly button up dress shirts that the community donated to support the program.
“This was a dream of mine, and it’s actually come true,” Harris said. “I’ve learned from them you can start at their age for life goals and teach self-respect. I believe the earlier you start, the better.”
Harris, who attended Quindaro Elementary, went to the school earlier this year with the idea for the program. School secretary Lisa Lenoir teamed him up with third-grade teacher Kyle Joyce, also a Kansas City, Kan., native.
“We want them to know they can be successful, that they have worth,” Joyce said of The Gents.
Also in April, Lenoir’s daughter, Clemeita Bachus, who went to Quindaro with Harris, was starting The Etiquette Class for girls like her 10-year-old daughter, Parys Stewart. They wear dresses, learn how to be well-spoken and act like ladies.
The boys aren’t just learning how to dress for success. They are learning how to treat girls and women, how to help out more at home and how to be better citizens.
“I would like them to think outside of themselves at a young age,” said Joyce, who also is a youth minister with the Community of Christ.
When I interviewed the kids, Joyce and Harris corrected the boys, advising them to say “yes, sir” and “no, sir” to questions.
“It makes me learn new things — how to treat girls and how to get and give respect,” said Trey’Vion Henderson, a 9-year-old third-grader.
For Rayquan Hickman, an 11-year-old fifth-grader, it was the first time he and other boys had received lessons on tying a necktie, and they were grateful.
Justin Bustamanti, an 8-year-old third-grader, said he likes the attention and has learned the value of picking up trash and doing other good deeds. “Helping people is good,” he said.
The girls like The Etiquette Class, too.
“It’s teaching us stuff that we didn’t know before like table manners,” said fourth-grader Keiryae Emery, 9.
“We’re in the program to learn good behavior and manners,” said fifth-grader Alissa Harris, 10.
“We get to learn a lot of stuff, and it will really benefit us as we grow up,” said fourth-grader Eloni Townsend, 10.
The programs have had an effect on behavior overall, said Quindaro Principal Stacey Chatmon. She sees it in a reduction in the children’s anger and frustration and in their speaking more respectfully to adults.
Joyce said people who’ve learned about the programs through Facebook pages have been generous with donations and encouragement. Joyce, Harris and Bachus hope to continue working with students after class next school year.
There’s also interest in the programs spreading throughout Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools. More adult involvement with children can only benefit the overall education that the students receive.