Charter School hosts a holiday feast
JANESVILLE Food is passed to the right.
Wait until everyone is seated to start eating.
And family togetherness doesn't just happen at home.
All these things and many, many more lasting lessons were part of Friday's classes at the Rock River Charter School.
School staff, with help from ECHO, hosted a holiday meal for the 150 students in the school's four programs: School-age parents, alternative education, GED option 2 and E-learning.
Mary Hathaway, a teacher and one of the deans of students, said the meal was an opportunity to teach manners and build community.
Those are important lessons.
"They're creating their own family traditions; their own memories," Hathaway said. "Those are wonderful things to draw on during times of stress."
Some of students have babies of their own, so creating a healthy family unit is an important part of their education. A healthy family means both they and their children have a better chance of being successful.
It's not an easy task, considering that more than half of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 13 percent are considered homeless.
But on Friday, nobody was thinking about statistics. They mostly were thinking about pie—and stuffing and turkey and seconds.
At the school-age parents' table, the young women talked quietly while their babies napped or cooed in baby carriers.
At the alternative education table, the young men joked with a lively cheerfulness that never ventured into the malicious. Grandma would have called them "young scamps."
What were some of the new manners they learned?
"Pass dishes to the right," said Seo Hernandez, 16.
"If you drop something on the floor, leave it there—no, pick it up with a napkin. Unless the dog gets it first," said Tommy Stapleton, 16.
There's no five-second rule? Like, if the food has been on the floor for less than five seconds you can pick it up and eat it?
"Nope. No five-second rule," Stapleton said.
Sometimes the manners were shouted down the table:
"Pass that with two hands!"
"Don't start eating yet!"
"Hey, this table is seated," responded Ray Ray Nhol, 18.
All of that joy and good humor wouldn't have been possible without donations from ECHO, the church-supported charity, said Patty Surber, a clerical team member.
"We started working with ECHO this school year," Surber said. "What a phenomenal group of people. When I mentioned we were going to try to put together this meal, they just really went out of their way to help."
The benefits will last long after the dishes are washed and put away.
"I think it's a good way for kids to experience a traditional holiday feast," Surber said. "The fellowship and community is a benefit, too."