BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — Fifth-grader Halee Butler worked the room at Bristow Elementary School as she confidently introduced herself and made small talk with local volunteers participating in an etiquette competition meant to teach students people skills.
After she made her way across the school’s gymnasium, each time collecting points from her interviewer on a personal report card, Halee emerged with a sense of poise.
“I get to just be a whole new person here,” Halee said. She liked talking to the volunteers and getting the chance to practice professionalism.
The first rounds of The Amazing Shake competition kicked off at the school. For Bristow Elementary School Principal Chris Stunson, it was a chance to pass on important soft skills students can carry with them into their adult lives.
“This gives students the opportunity to excel in something other than just academics,” he said. “We have students who are great speakers, who have great personalities, and a competition like this allows students who shine in those areas to showcase their talents as well.”
Teachers and parents have been practicing with the school’s students for weeks, teaching them the basics of polite conversation and dining etiquette.
During the first round Tuesday, students introduced themselves to community members and were judged for their S.P.E.C.I.A.L. introductions, Stunson said. The letters stand for shaking hands, posture, eye contact, charm, introduce yourself, ask questions and listen.
During the second round, students met in the library to carry on a polite conversation for three minutes including everyone at the table.
Although no students were eliminated between the first two rounds, their scores will determine the top 40 students that will move on to a dinner etiquette round Thursday. Students have been trained on which fork to use and how to politely pass around dishes, Stunson said.
After that, 20 students will complete interviews with local business professionals during the fourth and final round, but only 10 students will represent Bristow Elementary in the district-level competition March 25.
The winner of that contest will advance to next year’s National Amazing Shake Competition at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. The competition takes place in February, according to the academy’s website.
After confidently walking up to one volunteer and extending his hand for a handshake, sixth-grader Diego Rivas carefully listened to what the volunteer had to say.
“I like to meet new people,” Diego said, describing the competition as exciting.
He sees the value in practicing people skills early to one day interviewing for a job and “know what you’re doing,” he said. He dreams of playing professional soccer, he said, and thinks learning those skills could help.
Kijana Beauchamp, a Western Kentucky University graduate and representative of its Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, said he appreciated being able to work with the next generation and pass on skills he’s learned.
Martha Madison, a Bowling Green native and owner of the Dance Arts ballet school, identified with one student as a fellow artist, she said.
“He’s very blessed to be in this school,” she said, adding he can learn to hone his talents without having his creativity stifled. “In this environment he will be able to thrive.”
Freeda Reece traveled from Metcalfe County to volunteer for the competition. She works at Edmonton State Bank, she said.
“It’s a wonderful event,” Reece said, adding that learning soft skills shows confidence and respect. “I feel like they’re going to learn a lot.”