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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Willard students learn good manners are elementary, and fun

It’s never too early to teach kids the value of dressing well, being respectful and being courteous. Students at Willard Elementary on Spokane’s North Side were given the chance to learn and practice those skills in a new courtesy club this fall.

The goal was to teach important life skills, said counselor Jared Kuhn, who collaborated with support specialist Carlos Garcia to create the club.

“We also did it as a way to empower our students,” Garcia said. “Sometimes they don’t feel like they have that, because they’re kids. When you’re feeling like you’re at your best, you make good choices.”

The students met biweekly. They learned how to give and receive compliments, how to shake hands while looking someone in the eye and how rumors can affect people in school. They were encouraged to dress nicely at school.

“The first few lessons were on how to be a kind person, common courtesies,” Garcia said.

The club recently wrapped up with a formal dinner. Invitations and RSVP cards were sent out to parents and family members of students in the club and the students spent several meetings preparing. “We went over which fork, how to act at the dinner table, no elbows on the table,” Kuhn said.

The formal dinner also had the benefit of getting parents involved. “We also thought that created more community in the school, with the parents,” said Garcia.

The club was open to students in grades 3-6. One of those students was third-grader Riley Berry. “I just really wanted to be in it. I wanted to learn how to be like them,” he said, nodding toward Kuhn and Garcia.

His parents had bought him some nice boots and suits and Riley had nowhere to wear them until he joined the courtesy club. He said he thought they made him the most handsome kid in the room. “I’m happy to wear my suits,” he said.

Riley said he and his parents enjoyed the dinner. “It was a really nice dinner,” he said.

He practices his courtesy without prompting, offering to help people when they need it. “It was really fun, but we were learning at the same time,” he said of his time in the club.

Fourth-grader Lilith Sainsbury said her uncle told her she should join the club to practice her manners. She said she thought her manners were OK, but joined anyway. “I think it’s good to be in clubs because you learn more things,” Lilith said. “I learned quite a few more things than I thought. It was fun.”

She didn’t join the club alone, either. “I also dragged my brother along,” she said. “My brother just wanted to wear his ties, honestly.”

She admitted she liked to dress up, too. “I loved dressing up,” she said. “I even got a new dress for it.”

The club won’t continue after the new year, but Kuhn said they will instead start a step dancing class where the students will learn a dance based on the PAWS behavior expectations at the school. The acronym stands for Positive attitude, Act responsibly, Work hard and Show respect.

But they both want to bring the courtesy club back next fall. “We have ideas on how to improve it next year,” said Garcia.

This year’s club operated on a shoestring budget, and next year the duo would like to get sponsors to pay for the dinner and perhaps some nice clothes for club members to wear. “We understand that sometimes students may not have those clothes,” Garcia said.

Overall they’re pleased with how everything went. “This was just an experimental year,” Garcia said.

Kuhn said he thinks the club made a small but definite impact on the school environment and hopes that as the club continues and improves the impact will grow.

“Just for the first year, I think there was some change,” he said. “If we can continue doing it, I think it’ll be a bigger change in our school environment.”

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