L.I. School District Gives Lesson in Manners

By Greg Cergol
|  Tuesday, Dec 7, 2010  |  Updated 10:05 AM EDT
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This wasn't your ordinary classroom.  Kids sat at dinner tables, surrounded by plates, napkins and silverware.  Their lesson focused on proper meal-time etiquette.

This wasn't your ordinary classroom. Kids sat at dinner tables, surrounded by plates, napkins and silverware. Their lesson focused on proper meal-time etiquette.

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This wasn't your ordinary classroom.  Kids sat at dinner tables, surrounded by plates, napkins and silverware.  Their lesson focused on proper meal-time etiquette.

"How should we act when having dinner?" asked teacher Paula Kraus.

The veteran teacher was leading a course many would deem quaint or outdated. But, here in the Syosset school district, it's a requirement for all seventh graders.

It's a course on manners.

"There are still some gracious ways of living and if they learn a little bit, we're very happy," said schools superintendent, Carole Hankin.

The course runs the gamut from learning how to set a table properly to exercising common courtesies, like a gentleman standing when a lady leaves a room. However, this isn't a manners course straight out of the 1950's.

Technology and how to use it is a huge focus of the course.  The students discuss when it is appropriate to put the cell phone away or stop texting.  More importantly, they focus on what they call "netiquette;" the proper way to conduct yourself on social media.

"We talk about cyber-bullying and how it is affecting people," said student Brianna Welsh, 12.  "If you wouldn't say it to someone in person, you shouldn't say it to them on-line."

Some of these life lessons seem a little strange, according to students; like learning the proper way to fold a dinner napkin.  But, learning manners gives them confidence when heading into the world of adults. 

Even if it means turning off the cell phone.

"It is a big aspect of a person's life but I guess taking it away isn't so hard," said student Drew Rosen, 12.

In the end, however, the biggest lesson of this manners course at Syosset's Thompson Middle school may be for parents.

In another generation, they were the ones teaching manners; but, in many homes, according to teacher Paula Kraus, that's just no longer the case.

"They come home later and for many, dinner is a quick affair," Kraus said.  "Kids are often left on their own to figure things out."

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