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Program teaches grace, chivalry

With their parents and siblings crowded around the edge of the room, more than 80 fifth-graders paraded into the cafeteria at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School on Friday evening.

The young men, dressed in tuxedos, offered their arms to the young ladies, all in matching white dresses, and escorted them into the exquisitely decorated cafeteria. The men pulled out the ladies’ chairs and seated them before taking their own seats.

The dinner wrapped up a series of Saturday morning classes aimed at teaching the students not only manners and table etiquette, but also self-confidence and positive thinking.

“They speak their words into existence,” said Necole Salley, a QVC employee who has run the program the past two years. “I wanted them to stop speaking negative words into their lives.”

Salley’s children previously attended Mack Benn Jr., and she was surprised when she moved to Chesapeake to find that other cities offered more opportunities for children. She wanted the children at Mack Benn to have a program that would teach them self-esteem, she said.

“I wanted them to know that they are worthy, know that they are special, know that they can do all things,” Salley said.

The students gave up their Saturday mornings for the meetings, and it paid huge dividends for many of them, Salley said. At the beginning of the program, one girl told Salley she did not love herself, she said.

“Today, that young lady loves herself,” Salley said, urging the parents gathered around the perimeter of the room to get involved.

Story Parsons, whose son Isaac participated in the program, said she had noticed more self-confidence in her son.

“I think his self-esteem has improved,” she said. “I think he takes pride in the fact he knows how to treat a woman.”

The program also included words of encouragement from guest speakers and formal dancing in the school’s gymnasium, including a children’s waltz and father/daughter and mother/son dances.

“This is uplifting,” Salley said during the event. “If you teach a child love and show them that they are special, then they will believe in themselves and know that they are worthy to be loved.”