ROSEVILLE — A charter school for at-risk youths is improving the confidence of female students through special emphasis on dance, etiquette and girl-talk with the principal.
The classes in dance and etiquette aren’t part of the core curriculum, but they are said to make a huge difference in the students’ lives. Much of the student body at Conner Creek Academy East is considered at-risk — most qualify for free or reduced lunch, extra help in math or reading or have come to the Ferris State University-managed charter school a few grade-levels behind.
“Many of our students also come from homes that have difficulties — one parent is missing … just very difficult situations — not all, but many,” said Amy Parris, a reading specialist who works with students in third through fifth grade. “A very high percentage of our students are bused in from Detroit, and most of them qualify for many different services.”
The staff works together to offer free programming so the students there have just as many opportunities as most of the staff had when growing up — they offer weekly groups that meet during lunch, after-school programs, daddy-daughter dances and more — like girl-talk with the principal.
“Sixth-grade girls meet with me weekly to talk about anything and everything they want to talk about: social bullying, boys, schoolwork,” said Karen Smith, the school’s principal. In addition to their weekly group chats, Smith takes dance lessons with the girls.
“I noticed a lot of the girls had low self-esteem, and I thought if we bring in some dance, it might help,” she said. “A lot of the girls here don’t have the opportunity to ever take dance, so (a secretary at the school) gives up her lunch hour one day a week and teaches the girls ballet, modern jazz, a little bit of hip-hop.”
Each year, Smith learns a new routine with her sixth-grade students.
“We learn a dance and then we perform at the sixth-grade concert in April,” she said, joking that she is always the worst one in the class. “I tell them they can only laugh at me, they can’t laugh at anyone else in the class.”
The girls love it.
“It’s fun,” said 11-year-old Kiera Eligah. “We talk about boys and stuff, and then we dance, and we eat in here.”
“It’s just a lot of fun,” said 11-year-old Emuhina Smith. “We get to dance and talk to people from other classes that we don’t get to see all the time.”
“It’s a chance to talk to your friends, and if you have a problem, you can confront someone,” said 12-year-old T’ana Battle.
Polite confrontation skills are one of the many things taught in the after-school etiquette program.
“We have a lot of good talks about even simple things like introducing yourself,” Parris said.
They call the etiquette program YLITe, or Young Ladies in Training, and they meet from 3:30-4:30 p.m. on Wednesdays to discuss and learn about all things etiquette.
“We’ve been working on everything from simple etiquette and manners to how to do a place setting, how to sit correctly, how to stand correctly, how to answer the phone correctly, technology etiquette, and they really seem to be enjoying it,” Parris said. “They are excited to come.”
“I felt like, when I go in public, I need to make a good impression for myself, and, you know, try to act like a lady,” said 12-year-old Taylor Burnett, who added that the etiquette program taught her the importance of eye contact.
While the class focuses on etiquette and acting like a lady, many of the girls walk away with lifelong skills that transcend Emily Post.
At a recent class, the girls learned about the appropriate way to handle disputes between friends at parties and that many households have different rules, and even if they seem silly, when they are at someone else’s house, they must respect their rules. And they learned other skills that could help them in any career field that has to, even occasionally, handle conflict management or international travel.
“Etiquette comes from respect and consideration and honesty, and when in doubt, think about those three things and you should be good-to-go in any situation,” Parris said.
Conner Creek Academy is located at 16911 Eastland in Roseville. For more information on the school, call (586) 779-8055 or visit www.connercreekeast.org.