BY DEBBIE PAGE
Every Monday and Friday, a dozen young men enter Kensley Dalton’s classroom at Troutman Middle School for an hour of conversation, learning, and a few laughs with Dalton and Troutman Police Department School Resource Officer Wayne Elmore.
Their goal is “turning Bobcats into gentlemen,” said Elmore, who came up with the idea for the class to build relationships and soft skills that some students, particularly those without adult males in their homes, do not have the opportunity to learn.
“A lot of kids have no dads or positive male role models. We want to teach them to be a gentlemen, and we talk a lot about real life stuff they are dealing with,” said Elmore.
“We want to teach them to have respect for themselves and for others, to listen and to cooperate with others,” added Elmore, who noted that regardless of their situations, all students can find ways to improve their character and behavior.
During a recent meeting, Elmore told students the story a baseball coach once shared with him. If a player cannot throw a strike, he may want to widen the plate to make it easier. However, that lowers standards and the player’s sense of accomplishment. He encouraged the students to set high standards, morals, and goals for themselves to achieve their ambitions.
Participating students are encouraged to wear collared shirts on meeting days to look more professional. Dalton and Elmore teach lessons about tying ties, shaking hands, and looking people in the eye when they speak as well as interviewing skills and completing job applications and resumes.
Folks who have learned about the class donated ties and button-up shirts for the students to wear and so they can practice tying ties. The goal is to teach them professional dress for interviews.
A retired principal has donated money for ice cream or sodas for students who wear their ties on club meeting days.
The club started in the 2019-20 school year with 18 young men. Elmore said a few of the students were at first resistant to being selected for the club “until they realized we truly cared and want to help them become the best men they can be.”
After a COVID-19 hiatus, the semester-long club resumed this year with a dozen students. “They enjoy the club after they attend a few times. What’s said stays in the room too. There’s no set curriculum — we just determine needs and then try to meet them,” the officer said.
“If a student comes in with an issue, we talk about it and support them and help them brainstorm solutions to the issue. We only demand that they be respectful of each other — no making fun of others.”
On a recent Friday, Elmore and Dalton patiently taught the students to tie a basic tie knot with their box of donated ties. They explained how to cross the fat and skinny sections at the third shirt button and proceed with the knot, with the tie tip touching the belt buckle when finished.
Dalton encouraged them to get a white button-up shirt and pair of khaki pants to be ready for any occasions where they need to dress to impress.
Elmore reminded the students of a previous job interview role play the instructors did with Troutman Town Manager Ron Wyatt. Elmore came in for a mock interview with Elmore dressed casually like a typical teen, sitting slouchy, playing with his phone and being unfocused. Dalton entered for his interview professionally dressed, with a handshake, eye contact, good posture, and positive manners and attention.
Though they laughed at Elmore’s antics, students got his point: “You cannot go to a job interview not professionally dressed because you are representing yourself. First impressions are lasting impressions,” said Elmore.
“If you look sharp and you act sharp, chances are you will have better odds of getting a job,” he said.
“It’s all about selling yourself,” added Dalton.
Dalton and Elmore reminded students that the farther along they get in school and life, the more they will have to develop independently, working to gain pride and self-respect so they can earn the respect of others.
Elmore encouraged the students to look in the mirror each morning and think positive things about themselves and see their potentials to start their days off well. “Put a smile on your face — they’re contagious.”
“If you come in with a bad attitude, people will not respond positively. Don’t carry grudges because they bring down your attitude,” he added.
Dalton reminded students that anger at others eats the angry person up inside.
“You shouldn’t let them have that power over you. “You’ve got to develop a way of speaking good things about yourself, of thinking about your positive traits.”
Dalton reminded them that at job interviews, interviewers will often ask applicants about their strengths and weaknesses, so they need to be ready with good answers to sell themselves and to show self-awareness of things they can improve.
Having worked since age 15, Elmore also noted he rarely had to apply for a job or promotion because the people he came in contact with were impressed with his efforts. “If you start out proving yourself and working hard, your bosses are going to notice that,” he said.
In the next five years, Elmore reminded students that they will be out of school and having to make adult decisions. “You’ll make mistakes, but if you learn from them, it’s okay. If you keep making bad decisions though, that becomes a choice — one that will not lead you down a good path.”
“Everything in your life is a choice,” said Elmore, reminding them that their choices will bring either positive or negative consequences to their lives.
“I don’t expect you to be perfect. I’m not perfect. This is the time of life when mistakes are easier to get out of. Everybody does dumb stuff during puberty and you’re kind of losing your mind.”
“But now is also the time to learn how to act, how to dress, how to behave, how to handle disagreements so you can be successful in life,” he told the students.