Sixty-seven students in the primary and lower elementary grades showed their best etiquette on Friday as they gracefully sipped iced tea, nibbled finger sandwiches, and waltzed, tangoed, and two-stepped before a crowd of nearly 200 parents and grandparents during the annual High Tea.
The afternoon event began two decades ago as a way to emphasize the importance of good manners and to promote, even at the youngest grades, the whole child philosophy at Ojai Valley School.
“This event is something everyone looks forward too,” said second-grade teacher Darcie George, who helped initiate the High Tea tradition 20 years ago. “Etiquette is becoming a lost principal and this is a way to reinforce and show off our skills.”
This year was no exception as students in grades pre-kindergarten to second performed classic dance routines, including the tango, waltz, two-step and cha cha, before enjoying a traditional afternoon tea served in china and glass teacups in the Greenberg Activities Center.
Girls clad in a myriad of pink taffeta, white satin, yellow organza, and floral-print dresses were escorted by boys in crisp dark suits. Each student was presented to the audience before taking his or her seat at child-sized tables elegantly set by parent and teacher volunteers.
Continuing in the OVS tradition, the second-grade students helped prepare the menu and then served tea, sandwiches, cookies and chocolate-dipped strawberries to the guests seated in the auditorium. Five eighth-graders who have been enrolled at OVS since kindergarten, first or second grades were recognized as “honorary guests” and assisted with the afternoon program.
Before the event, Ms. George explained how learning etiquette and tradition fits within the school’s philosophy for creating an integrated life for children.
“They learn the proper way to sit and how to behave in a formal setting,” she said. “Simple manners like using your napkin and chewing with your mouth closed, and learning self control from as early as pre-school are taught here.”
Over the years, there have been countless mishaps, missteps and teachable moments. George remembers one year when a student rushed to get her table served and dropped a whole plate of chocolate-covered strawberries. She burst into tears. She quickly recovered and went on to serve more berries, learning that mistakes happen. You have to just move on.
Each year presents new adventures in tying ties and fitting little feet into fancy shoes.
“My favorite part,” George said, “is seeing the excitement build up from all the students. Hearing the second graders say, ‘Oh, I finally get to be a server.’ Passersby look longingly and say how much fun it was to be at the tea and how they can’t wait until they are allowed to come back as eighth grade students.”