LAYTON — LAYTON — Remember that ugly sweater your grandmother gave you for your last birthday? Or the awkward introductions at the last social mixer you attended?
Or that time you had to get up in front of a group and speak impromptu?
Not too many people innately know to handle these scenarios. The principals of four Davis School District elementary schools are working to ensure their students are taught the social skills to handle themselves in any situation.
Twenty-one students put their social graces to the test Wednesday in the Amazing Shake contest at Layton Elementary School on Wednesday. The students rotated through three mock scenarios — judged by adults — that called for good manners, firm handshakes and thinking on their feet.
"We go all out to teach kids social skills because a lot of kids aren’t explicitly taught that. So we want to make sure they can go get a job and then we teach them well enough they can keep a job," said Layton Elementary Principal Diane Hammer.
Along with the host school, students from Doxey Elementary in Clearfield, Tolman Elementary in Bountiful and Whitesides Elementary in Layton competed.
Some participants jumped into personal introductions with the zeal of a motivational speaker. Others nervously rocked back and forth on their heels as they shook hands with the people they met, starting with a firm handshake, all the while maintaining eye contact and making polite chitchat.
One contestant ended her conversation with three adults by saying, "Maybe we could all hang out some time."
Some children role-played to the hilt. One of the social situations was tactfully handling being given a well-meaning but awkward gift by your grandmother, which in this case was a small tube of toothpaste, toothbrush and deodorant.
One girl effused, "It's the best gift ever!"
One boy, fully immersed in the role of dutiful grandchild, said, "Love you, Grandma."
Students were judged on their gratitude, whether they connected with the gift, whether they opened the card and whether they engaged in meaningful conversation with their grandmother.
Doxey Elementary student Breeanna Schryver said her mother insists on good manners but interacting with adults presented new challenges.
"It was pretty intimidating. They're just staring at you. You're not supposed to look away and you have to have eye contact, avoid looking around. There's hand shakes — not too firm. It's pretty interesting," she said.
Caleb Andrews, a student at Whitesides Elementary, said he learned a lot from the contest.
"If you have bad manners, no one will want to be around you," Caleb said.
The Amazing Shake contest was developed by the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. The nonprofit middle school has been recognized nationally and internationally for its success in educating students with academic rigor, passion and creativity balanced by a strict code of discipline, the school website states.
Hammer said many of the teachers at the four schools that took part in Wednesday's event have participated in training at the academy, which they have put to work in their schools.
The contest aims to educate students about the "nuances of professional and social interaction with an emphasis on displaying manners, discipline and respect. As a result, students are given the skills needed to present themselves exceptionally well for opportunities today and in the future," the academy's website states.
Breeanna said she feels like the experience was valuable.
You need to go out of your shell and reach out to people. I hope that's what they do, that they feel confident in themselves and can actually do that.
–Diane Hammer, principal at Layton Elementary
"Certain people just have no manners and this is teaching the younger generation to have better manners than what a lot of older people have," she said. "It's a really good opportunity for … kids to be able to function well with adults and a whole bunch of great manners, especially posture, table manners and of course, the handshake."
Hammer said the contestants by and large "were really pretty poised. I don't remember being that poised when I was a kid."
The contest aside, the Amazing Shake program has significant benefits for participating schools, she said.
"I just know from when we started it to now I see a difference when we walk down the hall. They say, 'Hello.' They don't look down when I pass by," Hammer said.
"We teach them that people are to be interacted with and that everyone is maybe just a friend you haven't met yet. You need to go out of your shell and reach out to people. I hope that's what they do, that they feel confident in themselves and can actually do that."
Correction: In an earlier version, photo captions misidentified Gabriella Hughes, a third-grader from Tolman Elementary School, as McKell Astill, a third-grader at Whitesides Elementary School.