Local Mom Aims to Make Your Kids More Polite and Expand Their Opportunites
This is the story of one Hazelwood woman's goal to make the world a better place, one etiquette student at a time.
Every child could benefit from learning better etiquette, so when my Patch editor told me about an area woman who teaches etiquette classes, I jumped at the chance to take my 13-year-old son, Cameron, to one of her classes.
“I lived in New York for 13 years, and when I moved back to St. Louis, I thought, ‘Oh, everyone needs some help here,’” Black said.
Black, who has worked with Fortune 500 companies as well as in higher education at Washington University, said that she finds that even people who are academically skilled can sometimes need a little assistance with the “soft-skill piece.”
In addition to running her company, Black works with the Consortium, which she said helps underrepresented minorities obtain their Masters of Business Adminstration.
It's easier to learn proper etiquette when you start young, according to Black, and that’s why she teaches classes for children as young as 5 years old. She also teaches classes for older kids and teens, as well as for adults.
“I just did a set with a Brownie troop where they had me come in and do a table-etiquette class,” Black said. “And I worked with Staffing Solutions in Clayton giving brown bag presentations.”
Black said that she also writes business etiquette articles for the Consortium in preparation for its yearly conferences. She said she’s in the process of writing a book on etiquette.
“And I’m going to be speaking at the Missouri History Museum in the summer about etiquette,” she said.
Her daughter, Brianna Brown, a 14-year-old pianist who dreams of attending Berkeley School of Music, attended the class and helped serve the other students their snacks and cocoa. She said that her mom corrects her manners quite often, but that she is glad she understands how to use proper etiquette.
“I’ve seen instances where certain people didn’t know how to act at dinner, and I could tell that they were embarrassed,” Brown said. “It’s always good to know how to blend into your current situation.”
Another student, Alydia Bonds, said that the class was fun and interesting, even though she thought it might be a bit corny.
“Some of the stuff I didn’t know, so it was good to actually learn it,” she said.
Sip ‘n Savor, a comfortable St. Louis coffeehouse, hosted the intimate class. Black began the class by teaching students to introduce themselves to one another before they sat down to the table. She explained why introductions were important and then showed a video that spoke to the importance of table manners for teens.
As the class proceeded, Black taught the students how to set the table properly and gave them a few tricks to help them remember which pieces went in which places. Each student set his or her place for a two-course meal, and Black instructed them on the proper way to use their napkins, cut their food, pass the food around the table and even how to deal with waiters.
She explained what happens at formal dinners, including what guests should do and what they should expect from the hosts.
“I knew how to be polite before because my parents are picky about table manners,” my son, Cameron Atkinson, said. “But Monica taught me a lot of the formal stuff I didn’t know. It was really cool.”
Black herself was a gracious host, integrating humor into her lessons to make the students comfortable and keep them interested. Her daughter helped her serve the students their practice meals, and then she politely evaluated each student and gave individual pointers for improving manners.
“When you’re at the table, you can talk about anything that’s positive and won’t disrupt the table,” Black told the class. “Keep the negatives to yourself; it’s all about making everybody comfortable at the table.”
She continued to give students valuable etiquette tips that she said will open doors for them as they get older.
“It seems like it’s such an old-fashioned thing, but it’s so important,” Black said. “The important thing is to make people comfortable around you so you can have a conversation.”
She said that she named her company Etiquette Inclusion because when you know proper etiquette, you can be included in more opportunities.
“I want everybody to be able to have that,” Black said. “I think it will change the world for the better.”