Girls learn to turn on the charm
Teacher trains students in polite confidence
By DeWayne Bartels of the Times Newspapers, July 2, 2003

Service for one: Robin Thompson, seated, owner of Etiquette Network, teaches charm to girls and boys. But, more important than the manners her students are learning, Thompson says, is the confidence they gain from knowing how to deal with formal settings.

Beth Schwab has seen articles over the years about the crisis in confidence many young girls face while growing up.

The North Peoria woman, like any parent, wanted to instill confidence and character in her daughter, Emily. Her solution: charm school.

While charm schools in today's society might seem passé, they are making a resurgence nationwide, and North Peoria is no exception.

Mothers and daughters
Ten-year-old girls can be very shy. They can be uncomfortable in situations like dances and other formal settings.

Enter Robin Thompson of Etiquette Network in Pekin, IL.

Schwab invited Thompson to conduct her five-month charm school course in her North Peoria home, after learning the lessons were not just about manners but about instilling confidence and self-esteem.

Friends of Schwab's daughter, Emily, were invited to participate. Soon, eight girls were signed up for the $99 course.

Schwab was happy about the turnout. The question that remained unanswered was whether the girls would be impacted positively. Once a month, for five months Thompson met with the girls.

"A growing child is like a flower, Schwab said. "You have to train them."

Susan Dadds, whose daughter, Rebekah, was signed up for the course, felt the same way.

"I think it's so important for girls to feel at ease in a lot of situations," Susan said. "These skills aren't taught as much today as when I was a girl."

The girls learned many things. They learned the proper way to greet people. They learned the proper way to set a table, but they also came away with something they value even more.

"It taught me to be more myself," said Rebekah, 10. "I used to be a different Rebekah around people. I have more confidence in myself."

"I liked learning how to begin a conversation with someone I don't know. I'm kind of shy. Now, I feel a lot better about meeting new people."

Her mother could not be happier at the change.

"I've seen an increase in her self-confidence. She is more patient, especially with her little brother who she thinks is not quite civilized," Susan said. "She has said she feels more comfortable in meeting people."

Schwab has found the effort was worthwhile.

"For my daughter, Emily, it has helped her to learn to think before she acts. Though she does not realize it at the moment what she has learned in these classes will pay off later. Confidence and poise is something employers will take notice of," Schwab said.
Forks go here: From left Amy Rosborough, 10, Rebekah Dadds, 10, and Emily Schwab, 10, all of North Peoria are recent graduates of charm school.

"This is a very far-reaching thing. I think in our society, today, academic education is very important. This is character education. A child well-educated is wonderful. A child with good character is wonderful. A child with a good education and good character is light upon light."

A need
Thompson beamed at the Schwab home last week as her former students
showed off their skills.

"This training has made these girls confident and comfortable young women," Thompson said. "I shy away from calling this charm. It turns people off."
"The confidence these girls show came from within. I just brought it out of them with a little knowledge about how to handle themselves. They have been taught to like themselves. Thompson laughed when asked how the girls reacted to the first class.

"Once they saw I was not a blue-haired old lady and they started having fun, we got along just fine," Thompson said.

Thompson said the reason parents send their children to charm school varies. Some boys and girls are sent because they are shy. Others are sent to tone them down a bit.

"Regardless of the reason, the outcome of confidence is the same," Thompson said. However, Thompson said charm school is not about changing personalities.

"You are not going to see a completely different child. We turn them in to the best they can be, and not what someone might want them to be. We take their personality and strengths and build up them," Thompson said.

Thompson said charm school is for boys, girls and adults. Boys and girls are taught in separate classes.

Adults receive one-on-one training.

Thompson has been traveling all over the country in recent months conducting seminars on etiquette for businesses and universities. Recently, she was in New Jersey conducting seminars for a large corporation.

"I had to teach new hires the proper way to shake hands," Thompson said. "You'd think college graduates would know how to shake hands, but they didn't."

Thompson said the need for etiquette and image training at businesses is tremendous.

"This used to be passé, but no more. The Wall Street Journal is now even doing stories on manners and they've interviewed me," she said.

"Jobs are scarce. Kids and adults need to know how to communicate effectively and act in order to win a job."

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