Meirwen Trieste doesn’t have to think too hard to remember the days when men jumped to their feet when a woman entered a room, or when they skipped ahead to open the car door.
She tells her 10-year-old grandson, Ayden Davis, about those times that seem so far away. These days with both parents working and with the busy family schedules, an emphasis on manners fades, she said.
But over the past couple of months, Ayden has been spending his Tuesday afternoons after school in the Gentleman’s Club in Boynton Beach and Trieste has noticed a bit of a difference in him. Ayden has table manners. He says “yes, please” and “thank you” and yes, he’s even mastered opening the door for others.
Ayden is one of about a dozen Forest Park Elementary students who have joined the club. The fourth- and fifth-graders meet every Tuesday and learn from teachers David Katz and Michael Webber how to act like a gentleman. The boys are excited to be members and every Tuesday wear white button-down dress shirts, slacks and ties.
This past week, Ayden and the boys learned table manners. The 10-year-old said he enjoys learning how to be a gentleman, and, with a hint of rose appearing on his cheeks, said he thinks the manners he learns will help him impress girls.
The group already impressed at least one woman: Florida First Lady Ann Scott. She came to the school in January and the boys greeted her with flowers.
The Gentleman’s Club started about two months ago with the teachers and Assistant Principal Toni McMillan coming up with the idea. The teachers chose students who they thought could work on their behavior or confidence.
“We just saw a need with our older boys. We just wanted them to have some type of role model,” McMillan said.
McMillan has already seen a difference in the boys — for one, they aren’t in her office anymore. And those who were more shy are developing a voice. Most of all, the club keeps the boys off the streets.
“The neighborhood that our school is in makes it so easy for the boys to go a different way,” she said of the location just east of Interstate 95 south of Boynton Beach Boulevard. “I think the parents are counting on this program to make a difference.”
About 90 percent of the students at the school are on free or reduced lunch, according to the Palm Beach County School District.
Teachers at other schools have started similar clubs. Across the state at Caloosa Middle School in Cape Coral, the young boys are doing the same. And in South Carolina, students in first through fifth grades at Memminger Elementary in downtown Charleston meet weekly, dress up and learn the same type of manners as the boys in Boynton do, a local television station reported.
In Tuesday’s session, the Boynton group watched a short video reviewing tips on how to dine out: Where the utensils should be placed; keep your elbows off the table; place your napkin in your lap; how best to eat soup without creating a mess; and to make the OK sign with both hands and find the “d” and “b” with your fingers to help you know which drink and bread plate are yours.
They even learned that small crackers can be crumpled up and put into soup, while large crackers should be nibbled on. And, an olive pit should be taken out of your mouth with the pointer finger and the thumb and placed on the corner of a plate.
After, the boys were tested at the table. The teachers handed the group utensils, glasses of water, and breads and meats to make sandwiches. They had to do so as gentlemanly as possible, plus have polite small talk.
Zoe Augustin, 11, said he used his manners last week while out to dinner with his family in Orlando.
His impressed family members asked, “Who’s teaching you these things?”
The teachers want to continue the program for years to come and they’re open to volunteers and donations. Katz and Webber bought the boys the shirts, and donated the ties.
Next week, the boys will play sports outside and learn about sportsmanship. Webber said he looks at the issues that come up during the week, and then the teachers focus on that for the lesson.
The club has Medelson Charles, 11, already looking ahead.
“It helps me to teach, in the future, if I have grandsons or sons,” he said.