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Reinforcing dining manners

Imagine a bustling, noisy elementary school cafeteria transformed for one day into a caf (c), complete with a hostess and wait staff. Male students politely pull the chairs out for their female classmates to be seated.

tudents sit up straight in their chairs with napkins resting in their laps. Soft music plays in the background. Wait staff serve a three course meal as "please" and "thank you" is murmured all around the room.

This was the setting for Elden Elementary School's cafeteria on Jan. 22 when the school held its inaugural Restaurant Day treating two classes of fifth-graders to a restaurant experience.

Restaurant Day was a project of the school's character education committee. The project was designed to reinforce proper dining manners.

"This is an important event for all students," said teaching assistant Gloria Cook, who heads up the committee. "Learning is all about experiences, not only academics."

Children who wouldn't normally sit with napkins in their laps at lunchtime were doing just that, as well as politely asking each other for items on the tables.

For one lunch period the cafeteria was divided with a partition to separate the two classes that were being honored with the dining experience from other classes eating lunch at the same time. As the fifth-graders filed into the cafeteria they gave their names at a hostess station to receive the number of their reserved table. Lunch was served by various staff members including Principal Tony Cardamone, who was sure to remind students to say "please" and "thank you" to the wait staff. The fifth-graders were expected to keep their voices at a proper dining level, sit up straight and use the appropriate silverware while dining on a lunch of chicken or ziti.

"They're really rising to the occasion," said teaching assistant Terry Ziegler, who acted as a member of the wait staff. "They normally don't sit up this tall at lunch time."

Many of the students said that they enjoyed the restaurant experience because they liked being waited on, rather than having to get their own food in the cafeteria line and dispose of their trash by themselves.

"I like that it's not as loud as a regular day," said Zack Clark, who noticed that his peers were much quieter as they ate and talked with the children at their tables.

The other fifth-grade classes are scheduled to have a restaurant day on Jan. 29. The character education committee hopes to be able to repeat the experience eventually for all grades.

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