Parents Want Boys to be 'Charming'
By Nancy Ridgeway of the Journal Star

Clayton, 8, of Peoria gets a lesson on the proper way to eat soup from Charm School instructor Robin Thompson.
Pekin - Clayton is ready for the next time he goes with his family to the Red Lobster restaurant. The 8-year-old Peoria gentleman plans to seat his mother at the table.

Seating a woman at the table is just one of the polishing touches that boys learn in a self-improvement class offered at the Bergner's store in Pekin through the Robin Thompson Charm School.

Robin is offering a class for boys this summer. "Parents have been asking for it," she says. "Boys need to have confidence as much as girls do. This really teaches them how to act - what to do in a situation. That's where confidence comes in. If you know how to do something, you feel confident, weather it's making introductions or eating an artichoke. I'm trying to build their self-confidence, and you get that only if you know what to do."

At a recent session, the boys learned proper techniques for serving at a table, as well as proper reactions to noticing a dirty dish and other table manners. Christopher says, "Mom and Dad help me learn to be nicer, but they thought it would be fun for me to come here."

Nearly all the boys come at the suggestion of their parents or grandparents. Stephen, 8, admits, "On the first night, I didn't even know I was coming until a few minutes before my grandma brought me here." He's glad he's coming now though. "My manners were good, but they've gotten better here. My favorite is learning about setting tables right."
"Boys would never admit they come to charm school, but once they're here, they love it!"

Above: Robin Thompson guides 13-year-old student Tony in correct placement for knives and forks during dinner.

Robin offers a juniors class for 8- to 11-year olds, as well as classes for teens. Classes cover subjects such as table manners, posture, dating, school life and grammar.

The boys are asked to dress up when they come to class. "They don't need to wear suits and ties, but it doesn't hurt for them to wear a nice shirt and pants and to practice walking in their good shoes."

In conjunction with learning proper behavior in formal situations, the boys write a brief essay about themselves. As they read the essay, Robin has given them tips in public speaking. I try to help them get used to speaking in front of people."

Robin also asks the boys to think of five topics of conversation and an opening question. "It's funny. They all list the weather. Then, they say everything from hobbies to movies. I remind them that conversation takes two people. It's not all up to them. They only have to do 50 percent of the work." She adds, "They have to realize they are just as good as everybody else and think positive."

She discusses her decision to open a charm school. "I teach modeling and I enjoy it, but there are so many who need the basic skills. I knew Bergner's used to have a 'White Gloves and Party Manners' class. I thought why not start teaching these skills at a younger age. Why wait until they are 20? If you can reach them at a younger age, they wouldn't go through all the mistakes that we all do."

Robin offers tips to parents trying to teach manners to their children. "Don't nag, because they will not listen. Kids will shut it out. Be subtle. Children learn best by example."

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