Every Monday that school is in session, you can find about 20 fourth and fifth grade boys in dress shirts and ties roaming the halls of William Southern Elementary.
It's not a special occurrence. It happens every Monday.
They are part of the new program called "Southern Gentlemen" instituted this school year at the school in southern Independence based on an idea by fourth grade teacher Montell Evans.
The group of about 20 students meets every week school is in session on what they call "Man-Up Monday." They dress up in dress shirts, ties and khaki pants and learn what it takes to be a gentleman from Evans, fellow teachers Bryan Davis and Casey DeLoach and volunteer Alan Findley.
"Our goal is to train up the young men to become men of character, gentlemen serving our community," said Findley, who is student pastor at Country Meadows Baptist Church near the school.
The group meets after school on Mondays, hearing guest speakers – "men of character" – on the character words the school and district focus on throughout the year. In a recent meeting, Independence School District Deputy Superintendent Dred Scott spoke to the boys about that week's word, "initiative." Other words have been "responsibility" and "service."
"Our goal is to focus in on those character words of the month," said Evans, who had the idea for the program last April. "Sometimes it gets lost in instruction time because we're so focused in on giving them the content and everything, that those lessons on character kind of get missed.
"And who it impacts more than anything is those boys who really need the opportunity to grow and benefit from that development, so we definitely figured this would be the opportune time to give it to them and help them out."
Evans said the program sprang from an idea last year after the school had experienced a rash of male students getting in trouble and being sent to the intervention room.
"It was pretty repetitive, the same visitors, so we really wanted to target those individuals by providing them an opportunity with a club that engages them and really gets them involved," Evans said.
Evans said another teacher put up a Facebook post about similar programs at other schools around the country and said it would be a good thing at Southern, which solidified the idea he already had.
"I said I'll go ahead and champion that," Evans said. "I was already in the works of preparing something like that to propose, so I was like, 'Oh, great.' When they mentioned that, I just proposed what I had and they said, 'Do it!' So as soon as they said that, I sat down and was really just trying to get the curriculum for what we were going to do with it and what our main focus was going to be and how we wanted to go ahead and implement it."
He worked it out and began the program last August when school opened. The boys work together on projects and have volunteered to help around the school and in the community. They help escort younger students around the building. They serve as recess partners for younger students, giving them a role model. They helped out at the school's annual Daddy-Daughter Dance, opening doors and working. They have picked up trash and other items on the school's grounds and have made cards for homeless people.
"I like the way we get to learn character traits and they help us do better in school," said fourth grader Javier Fargas. "We act better and we have time to think about what to do in school. We can be a role model for (younger kids)."
Fifth grader Robert Allwin said his parents have noticed that he helps out more at home and his behavior has improved. He also said he has learned to tie his own tie and likes dressing up.
"My favorite part about it is actually helping people," he said. "It was really cool when I first actually started it. ... It's helped me to be better as a man and a student."
Evans said the program has helped the attitude throughout the school and has caught on quickly.
"So now it's a buildingwide culture. I know when we first started, one of the most brilliant things you saw in the building was that when these boys started dressing up on Mondays, you saw kindergarteners, first graders and second graders dressing up on Monday," Evans said. "That was the most remarkable thing because everybody was getting into it. ... They would come by and show it off to me and say, 'Mr. Evans, look I'm a Southern Gentleman too.' With it becoming a culture around the school is exactly what we hoped it would be."
Findley said he hears about it at his church too.
"It's been so cool," Findley said. "As I am at the church, I hear kids getting word of it and hoping they can be a part of it. The third graders this year who are eligible to do it next year are already champing at the bit."
The students who have successfully completed the program as fifth graders will get bow ties – much like the trademark bow ties of Dred Scott – at their next meeting as a reward.
"It's for completing tasks within the program, getting cards filled out from teachers for good behavior, for conducting themselves well in public, for attendance and adhering to the dress code," said Davis. "It's a good way for them to earn it."
Evans said they plan to continue the program next year and beyond.
"The response has been great. We actually have quite a few boys who are in fourth and fifth grade saying, 'I wish I'd have done that.'" Evans said. "At first when it started it seemed like some said, 'I already know how to be a gentleman. I don't want to be a part of that.' But luckily we had quite a few boys who conducted themselves as gentlemen and wanted an opportunity to be a leader. And it was really important because we had a handful of students who ran for student council and didn't get elected, and they were pretty bummed out about that. But when they saw Southern Gentlemen they saw an opportunity to be a leader effectively in the school still. So they ran in here and they've led the way and forged ahead, and I'm really proud of what they've done so far.
"If all else fails, and they walk away from here remembering these moments, this time, I want them to be able to feel like there's nothing I can't go out there and be because I have the character within me to do it.”