As a leadership academy, Kyrene de los Cerritos Elementary School implements the "7 Habits of Highly Effective Students" as one way to turn its students into future leaders of the world. This year the school has added something new to tackle another aspect of building maturity - through the lunchroom.

Cerritos staff replaced more than half of the elementary school staple - the long, military-type tables and benches, with round tables that can sit up to eight children. The advantage of the round table, said Principal Darcy DiCosmo, is that it encourages a more adult atmosphere, one in which students use better manners and improve their conversational skills.

"The thing we wanted was to change the dynamics of lunch," DiCosmo said. "I really felt that the cafeteria didn't give a sense of calm. And that's what we wanted - a calm and community place. We call it our cafe."

The eight new tables were put in at the beginning of the school year with funding from Kyrene's Innovative Educational Programs, as well as through gifts and donations from the public. DiCosmo and the Cerritos PTO hope to replace the remaining four tables at some point.

Part of the new setup is also to encourage kids to eat with people they may not normally lunch with and make new friends. It is also seen as a privilege to eat at the round tables because it switches everyday between the classrooms on who gets to use them.

"I like to sit here because I get my own seat and it's easier to talk to my friends," first-grader Sophie Heaton said.

Nicole Bondurant, a member of the Cerritos PTO, said the group is working hard to raise the money for the remaining four tables. Her child goes to the school and she has seen how much of a positive impact they have on lunchroom behavior.

"In adult life, we don't eat at those long tables," Bondurant said. "The kids are learning how to eat in a restaurant and communicate with those they are sharing their time with. It is never too early to teach kids how to act respectful at a restaurant."

One of the biggest pieces of evidence that the new tables are changing lunch behavior is that kids are more apt to throw away their trash and keep their area clean.

"We had some students that just wouldn't clean up after themselves," DiCosmo said. "We have had less trouble with this than any other year."

Encouraging improvements in manners is a constant objective, DiCosmo said, which is why she adds tips to the morning announcements.

"I'll say it's Mindy Manners day and tell them to think actively about saying ‘please' and ‘thank you,'" she said.

Stay tuned to the AFN for future updates regarding Cerritos PTO fundraisers.

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