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How some Baltimore-area schools battle lack of respect with etiquette

Educators have decried the increasing lack of respect their students seem to show adults and each other -- the talking back, the failure to treat others with kindness, the displays of bad manners.

Educators have decried what they say is the increasing lack of respect their students seem to show adults and each other: the talking back, the failure to treat others with kindness, the displays of bad manners.

Instead of complaining, Wendy Carver decided to do something about it.

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Carver, a guidance counselor at Shady Spring Elementary School, started an after-school club four years ago called Guys with Ties, Girls with Pearls to give some fourth- and fifth-graders a chance to learn about and practice etiquette.

"A big part of being mannerly is being respectful," she said. "It has been my hope that by teaching the students manners and etiquette they will become more respectful of others and themselves."

Along with the challenging work of instructing students on how to show more decorum in an era of anything-goes impropriety, teachers at the eastern Baltimore County school are also pushing the students to consider making better sartorial statements.

The fourth- and fifth-graders are encouraged to dress up every Thursday. Although the attire is optional, many come to school wearing their Sunday best; the boys in jackets and ties, the girls is dresses and skirts. Those who don't have ties can get one from the principal, who keeps a large stack of donated ties in his office. The girls get a string of plastic pearls to wear.

"Every Thursday we promote dress for success," Principal Kenneth Dunaway said. "I have kids come to me with a T-shirt on and say, 'I forgot to dress up.'"

He hands them ties.

Schools across the county are creating mentoring programs that foster leadership, ethics, and proper social behavior, said Marcus Wimberly, the mentor facilitator for Baltimore County schools.

At Randallstown Elementary, a program called Boys in the Good encourages boys to work on projects that help their school and community, simultaneously fostering good behavior and good deeds.

The program is teaching "students to have pride in themselves," Wimberly said.

Some schools are even promoting kindness and civility as a countermeasure to the mean-spirited bullying that takes place on social media.

The etiquette club at Shady Springs meets once a month. Students are taught 21st-century manners along with old-school courtesy. They learn how to correctly pull out a chair for a lady, how to write a thank you note, and what they should or shouldn't say on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.

Teacher Julie Taylorson was teaching Internet etiquette to a group of children one afternoon.

Before posting anything on social media, she told them, ask yourself three questions: Is it nice? Is it honest? Is it necessary?

She warned them that what they put on social media can't be erased, so it will be there for their parents, future teachers and future employers to see.

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But she also peppered the Internet-age etiquette with age-old adages.

"Nothing nice to say," Taylorson said. "You shouldn't say anything."

In the next room, another teacher was helping students think about how and when to write a thank you letter.

On this afternoon, about half the fourth- and fifth-graders had volunteered to stay after school to learn manners.

Alphonso Hawes, a 10-year-old, said the program has helped him reinforce what he learns at home.

"I learned how to be a gentleman to a woman," he said. "I learned how to speak properly. I learned how to write thank you letters. I learned how not to bully."

Other students said they had impressed their families with their manners when they went out to dinner.

Most said they particularly enjoyed getting dressed up.

"I have a reason to look good on Thursdays," said Jarrell Burden, 11. "It makes me feel better."

Arlene Arzate-Juarez, 9, agrees. She had her hair parted in a zig zag and pulled back on the side with a flower.

"You can be pretty and fancy at school," she said. "Sometimes my mom does my hair."

Arlene said she has learned not to speak with her mouth full, "because everyone is going to see all your food and that is disgusting."

Wimberly said programs that teach manners in schools have been around for years, but are starting to get more attention. He said students change when they get dressed up.

"Their persona changes and it is fun to see them interact," he said. "It is another way we are trying to connect kids with their schools."

At Shady Springs, teachers throughout the school have volunteered to help with the program.

"It has changed the whole atmosphere of the school," said Taylorson, a second grade teacher.

Carver, who started the program, hopes Guys with Ties, Girls with Pearls has a lasting effect on her students, giving them skills that will serve them well when they enter the workplace as adults.

Parents asked so many questions about the program that Carver now produces a regular publication called The Gazette that details what is being taught, so parents can reinforce the teaching at home.

The final meeting of the club takes place each May, when the students take parents or other important adults to a fancy tea at Martin's East off school grounds.

With the program growing in popularity each year, Carver has begun to get inquiries from other Baltimore County schools that want to create their own etiquette programs.

As a result, Carver said, she has written a curriculum that she hopes to get published so she can share it with other schools.

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