By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
Fifth- and sixth-graders donning dresses and ties sipped lemonade and chocolate milk from goblets this week as they made dinner conversation with dignitaries.
School counselor Kelsey Daluga clapped and smiled as she watched the Manners Meal at Howard Elementary School wind down.
“They’re so good,” she said. “They’re waiting for the rest of their table to eat their ice cream.”
Howard and Northwestern elementary schools have been holding the meal for years. Parents and teachers say kids today need to know how to behave during a business dinner and make conversation with important people, said Daluga, who organized this year’s meal.
“It’s an art that’s not taught anymore,” Daluga said. “They don’t learn it anywhere else.”
Kids this week sat napkins carefully in their laps. Boys pulled out chairs for the girls who sat next to them. Children talked quietly to the person next to them while making sure their elbows never touched the tables.
That’s a far cry from what a typical school lunch looks like. Students are normally eating with their hands or yelling across the table to their friends, Daluga said.
“Kids could use a reminder about manners every once in a while,” she said.
Learning the art of etiquette is no easy task, though.
Students were quizzed on their knowledge of eating utensils. Which fork do you use for a salad? Which spoon do you use to eat soup?
That may have been the hardest lesson for students to learn, the counselor said. But making conversation with local businessmen and dignitaries came in at a close second.
Students bugged Daluga for days about which community members would serve as the heads of their tables.
They didn’t find out until the day of their meal. But Daluga armed them with a paper full of potential conversation starters they could use if they didn’t know what to say.
The students sat down for a meal with teachers, school board members, city employees, a financial advisor, a business woman and even the mayor.
Some of them were nervous.
Eric Grzegorski, a financial advisor and deputy prosecutor, said his group seemed nervous at first.
“It was probably a little intimidating to be all dressed up like that,” he said.
Eventually the students warmed up — even the ones sitting with the mayor.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight chatted with the children about their school’s student council and about spring break plans.
Daluga said it was a valuable exercise for the future. They need to know how to talk to adults and make good impressions.
“They could be working for one of these people some day,” she said.
Family and Consumer Science teacher Renee Hullinger quizzed her table of students on etiquette practices.
She asked them how they would pass the salt and pepper to her and how they would eat a roll.
“You don’t put the whole roll in your mouth,” she said. “You tear off a little piece.”
Students said this was the biggest and fanciest meal they’ve ever had at school. They were served salads, rolls, sweet and sour chicken, green beans, rice and rainbow sherbet ice cream.
Fifth-grader Alexander Leicht said the meal was fun, but he probably wouldn’t use what he learned — at least for five years.
Grzegorski laughed about that.
“It’s never too early to talk with kids about how to behave and have a discussion at dinner,” he said.
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