Holmes Elementary School’s cafeteria was transformed into a first-class dining establishment Thursday so graduating sixth-graders could practice the etiquette they’d studied all week.
Sandrene Hansen-Pinckney knew to use the fork on her farthest left for the salad; the one in front of her plate was to be used for dessert and the napkin went over her lap.
For some students in the school – located in one of Spokane’s poorest neighborhoods – it was the first time they’d dressed up for a formal meal, the boys in button-down shirts and ties and the girls in dresses, said Holmes’ Principal Steve Barnes.
The goal of “Dining at the Ritz … A class act” is to teach the kids enough etiquette to be comfortable in any situation, from a first date to meeting the president, he said.
It’s the brainchild of Barnes and Doug Wordell, Spokane Public Schools’ director of nutrition. Both said they grew up poor.
In his home, said Wordell, “if you didn’t eat fast, someone else would eat it for you.
“That’s not the case here,” he told the kids Thursday. “If you drop something, we’ll get you more. Don’t rush.”
Barnes said he learned etiquette from his mother, who told him, “you may not have a lot of the nicest clothes, the best tennis shoes, but I’m going to teach you good manners.”
Sandrene was excited for her first fancy lunch. “It’s a five-star meal,” she said. “You don’t get that a lot.”
Classical music played on the stereo; the tables were draped in white and the lights were dimmed as the sixth-graders were seated. Fifth-graders in aprons stood at the head of the tables in anticipation of the diners’ requests.
One young lady demonstrated to her friends how she leaned against the table without putting her elbows on it.
The group was served a three-course meal. Girls and boys slowly ate their salads, managed buttering spiral breadsticks with round butter balls and considered how to cut strawberries with a fork and knife before digging into the lasagna.
Charlene Campbell, 11, dropped her butter knife twice during the meal and needed to have it replaced with a clean one. The second time, she let out a little scream in frustration.
“That’s OK,” Barnes said. “That’s why we practice.”