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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Feature: Manners Matter in Abilene

Welcome to “Dannefer Diner” and to positive social interactions . . .

 by Meta Newell West

Mrs. Dannefer uses the white board in the Social Lab to demonstrate the correct placement of dinnerware and silverware for a special meal table setting.- photo by Meta West
Fifth grade students were welcomed to “Dannefer Diner” as they entered Garfield Elementary’s Social Lab. During the interactive 30-minute class session, students followed the lead of Mrs. Melissa Dannefer as she provided instruction on table setting. As she drew a place setting on the white board located at the front of the room, they repeated her actions, using crayons to create their own personal table cover on paper-lined tables—first the placemat, then the dinner plate, followed by napkin placement, silverware and a beverage glass.
A fifth-grader draws her customized table setting during a Social Lab class at Garfield Elementary. - photo by Meta West
Every student was engaged and there was excitement in the air as they anticipated Garfield’s upcoming Grandparent’s Day scheduled for the last part of this month. “It will be an opportunity to use good manners when your grandparents join you for lunch. And, between now and then there will be a table setting relay game where you can practice what we’ve learned today,” Mrs. Dannefer explained. To help them remember which silverware goes where, she pointed out a trick—the knife and spoon are placed to the right of the dinner plate—knife, spoon and right all contain five letters, while fork and left both contain just four letters. Students also used their iPads to photograph their place setting for a quick pictorial review in the future.
Fifth-grader uses her iPad to take a photo of the table setting she created.- photo by Meta West
The Social Lab is in session Tuesday through Friday afternoon with each Garfield student receiving an hour’s worth of social instruction weekly. On two of those days, Allison Buechman assists Mrs. Dannefer in the lab. Their mission is to help students feel good when they do positive things and to realize there is always a positive way to do everything.

Inspiration for the table setting lesson came from an etiquette-based curriculum guide but the instructors had to adapt it to fit their situation. For example, it would have been impossible to use real dishes and silverware or even paper plates and plastic silverware when dealing with 225 students, especially since there is just minutes between one class leaving and another arriving. “Besides, can you imagine how many germs would be passed if students had to share those materials?” Mrs. Buechman pointed out.

This project got started because Garfield teachers and Principal Dallas Meneley noticed a real need to expand student’s knowledge of proper etiquette. What started out as a dream became a reality as District 435 decided to implement a K-12 Positive Action curriculum this school year. While other grade levels integrate age-based curriculum into current classroom settings, Garfield’s Social Lab gives fourth and fifth graders an in-depth opportunity to contemplate and role play those positive actions that society deems so important.

It was a proud moment for me to see one of my students go up to a speaker, shake his hand and look him in the eye as he said thank you,” Mrs. Dannefer said. She added, “During a session that dealt with integrity, students explored the importance of doing what they say they are going to do. Their homework was to send me a note via the iPad, explaining what chore they would be helping with at home.” Photos, taken with iPads, and notes from parents were used to document the results. According to both instructors they received positive comments from parents who even suggested more homework assignments.

Positive actions covered in Social Lab also cross over to other classroom learning. After a session on the importance of saying thank you, students in Tech Lab were assigned to write personal letters and thank you notes. Mrs. Buechman, who also happens to be the Tech Lab instructor, noted, “The students started off thinking they’d write to celebrities or sports figures, but after some thought they are working on letters to teachers, family members and others who have made a personal difference in their lives.”
Mrs. Buechman moves about the Social Lab as fifth grade students draw table settings.- photo by Meta West
In their role as parents, as well as instructors (both have fifth grade daughters), Mrs. Dannefer and Mrs. Buechman appreciate the fact that the Positive Action and Social Lab curriculums provide reinforcement to important values and social interactions that they cover at home. Mrs. Buechman added, “I just wish that my sixth grade son would have had the opportunity to participate in the Social Lab.”

What started as a dream and a conversation among adults has turned into a worthwhile project that is teaching and enforcing positive action. And since dreams do sometimes comes true, Mrs. Dannefer has not stopped dreaming. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have an end-of-the-year banquet where students have the opportunity to practice everything they’ve learned all year long?”

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