Dancing teaches lesson in civility Workshop: Annapolis Senior High School students stride, kick, step, all the while treating one another with a respect in a program designed to reduce tension at the school.

September 22, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Step, step, twist and turn. Try not to crash into those around you, and excuse yourself if you do because this dance lesson is not about dancing.

It's about what to say when your Macarena is more like the "bump."

Some 250 Annapolis Senior High School students divided into eight teams for what they conceded was a much-needed lesson in civility at a daylong workshop sponsored by the school Friday at Sandy Point State Park.

Poking, elbowing, yelling, touching someone's belongings, stepping on toes, cursing all seem like fairly minor slights, but they can ignite fights, they said.

"I don't think people do things to be mean. They just don't think," said junior Rachel Kronsberg, 15.

She was one of 50 students trained over the summer to lead the discussion and dance workshops. Students who would yawn through a "respect thy neighbor" lesson from teachers were eager to join activities led by classmates and to be rated for courtesy by other classmates. The prize for the most mannerly dance team was movie passes.

As boom boxes belted out the tunes, the groups followed their leaders and swiveled through "Macarena." They lifted their knees for "Alley Cat." They turned in long strides for "Do the Bartman." They kicked high for "New York, New York."

They also learned a bit of physics: Two people can't occupy the same space. They crunched each other's toes and bounced off each other's hips. They confused right and left to bump into the next person, and they kicked the one in front. But they did it politely.

"Every time I went like this, I kicked a person. And I hit those pole things," said Ridgley McGowan III, a 13-year-old ninth-grader, demonstrating his actions. "I had a good time."

The idea of teaching courtesy came from a student survey last year, in which the most prevalent complaint was of tension blamed on disrespect.

Three years ago, school administration and faculty decided to start the workshops as part of a school improvement strategy, said Principal Joyce Smith. The first year's topic was violence. After the workshop, suspensions dropped by 25 percent. There were fewer fights, and more students intervened to cool tensions, Smith said.

Last year's topic was diversity. To avoid a been-there, done-that boredom, a fourth topic will be picked next year, said Stephen Levy, assistant principal.

Teachers say the atmosphere in the school is the best it has been in more than a dozen years. Other high schools in the county are taking notes.

Each group held two morning workshops, the first identifying polite behavior. While "don't talk with food in your mouth" shouldn't be a new concept, students complained that some classmates abandon decent behavior between their front doors and the school cafeteria.

Students improvised skits in the second workshop, depicting everything from how to be a good baby sitter to how not to torment your substitute teacher.

Barbara Scherr, a specialist in student leadership and conflict resolution with the State Department of Education, said too few such programs exist.

"Some of these kids may never have opportunities to learn things like that. And in a different environment, all of the kids see each other differently," she said.

"I see it as a ripple effect. It is something that carries over to their friends."

That carry-over is helpful. The price of the Friday workshop and a second to be held this week is $5,000 for the 500 students who volunteered to participate. School officials say they cannot afford to train all 1,650 students.

Teens exchanged "friendly fringes" yesterday, each pulling a short strand from a team-colored pompon.

By noon, twists of yarn in eight colors were a fashion statement, tied on eyeglasses, earrings and hair. Each strand came with a hug.

"You're my friend," said 11th-grader Cristina Grillo, 16, as she squeezed Alison Gayne, a 17-year-old senior, and gave her purple yarn.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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