Middle School Students Learn Social Savvy

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The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who are in or will pass through Greg Lanners' classroom at Rim Country Middle School do a lot of acting.

And even though, according to William Shakespeare, all life is a stage, life skills is not a drama class.

"Sixty to 80 percent of communication is non-verbal," said Lanners. "That means you must do a lot of what?" he asked his pupils.

"Acting," several pupils answered.

When Lanners asked how many of his sixth grade pupils thought they were shy 10 of 30 raised their hands.

Even actors can be shy in a social setting, but put them in front of a camera and they become someone else.

"Would it be helpful if you could act just a little bit, pretend just a little bit and walk up to someone and say, ‘Hi. My name is _______?

"What happens after you practice?" Lanners quizzed.

"Things become easier," Katlin Franklin said.

There were smiles on most pupils' faces as Lanners had students turn and introduce themselves to each other.

Many pupils shook hands, yet a few did not even make eye contact with their classmates.

Not singling those pupils out before their peers, Lanners made his point by simply walking up to a student, shaking their hand and saying, "Hi, I'm Greg Lanners," while his back was turned.

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Greg Lanners instructs Rim Country Middle School student Haley Pfeifer. Communication is only one of the lessons taught in the life skills class.

Eye contact means you are sincere.

Pupils gave examples of compliments, like ‘nice jacket' or ‘your haircut is so cute' as good conversation starters.

A few pupils said they felt uncomfortable giving or receiving compliments.

Questions were offered as other ways to get a conversation going.

The sixth graders had answers.

"Do you like football?" Joe Dice said.

Or, "How about, what class do you have first period?" Janine Tantamonico said.

Class members discussed how talking with peers was different than talking to adults. Then they played the mime game -- making gestures to reinforce what they had learned in a fun way.

"Gestures was hard and I didn't know we didn't talk that much when we communicated," Logan Morris said.

The textbook is "Lifeskills Training: Promoting Health and Personal Development."

The nine-week course has other aspects including, coping with anger, the three Cs of effective decision making (clarify, consider and choose), resisting peer pressure and how the media influences people.

Self-image is Haley Pfeifer's favorite part of class so far.

Life skills was added to RCMS's curriculum this year when principal Monica Nitzsche and her staff decided that pupils would benefit from it.

"In our opinion (middle school) is a critical period in their life and the social savvy they develop during this stage will affect how well they function for years to come," Nitzsche said.

Enthusiasm, attitude and a willingness to share some of the things he has learned in life, makes it possible for Lanners to communicate with and coach his students.

Lanners said his goal in three years is for the community to look different.

Students will have more self-esteem and self-confidence and because of those traits be able to accomplish more and know when to say no.

"I hope students will be able to make good choices that have good consequences," Lanners said.

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