Jewell Cardwell

A high tea party in a lavish setting, complete with glistening chandeliers and dainty floral centerpieces.

That’s what last week’s invitation-only event at the Akron Woman’s City Club may have looked like to those witnessing the pageantry of 18 fifth-grade girls dressed in their Sunday best.

However, it was so much more.

It was a real coming of age, as this was a chance for young ladies from Akron’s Portage Path and Helen Arnold schools to display the mastery they acquired during a multiweek?Sister2Sister project that spoon-fed them, among other things, proper etiquette, an important lesson in helping them to better navigate life.

So, no hamburgers or peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches this day. And no elbows on the table.

Rather, finger sandwiches — watercress and cream cheese, egg salad — were the food du jour, along with scones, served with hot tea in real china teacups, on beautifully adorned tables with cloth napkins.

If you don’t like something being served, they were earlier taught, you don’t make a face and say so. Just say, “I’ve never tried this before.”

However, instructors didn’t need to be nervous, as everything seemed to be palate-pleasing.

“This is marvelous,” exclaimed an obviously pleased Kayla Hall from Portage Path.

Fellow classmate Audrey Croston agreed, adding, “This is incredible. Very different from our school lunch.”

Alysse Faulkner from Helen Arnold — who was pretty in pink — said she had help from her grandmother, Nan Moorer, in choosing what to wear.

Portage Path’s Daisha Blanch also dressed the part for the special outing, selecting a soft knit dress with a profusion of dots in pink, purple and apricot with coordinating shoes, socks and jewelry.

“The emphasis isn’t just on saying ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ or ‘May I please have? this?’ ” said Akron Woman’s City Club president-elect Madeline Milford. “It’s also on how to conduct a conversation, how to meet and chat with new friends.”

Jane Delcamp — the club’s second vice president, who donned a spring hat for the occasion — called the tea party a real success.

Portage Path fifth-grade teacher Karen Grindall called the Sister2Sister project, now in its third year, a way to gently usher the girls into positive thinking and positive actions. Sort of an anti-bullying, anti-gossiping campaign.

“The last few sessions addressed proper etiquette: things like knowing how to extend your hand to meet someone and the importance of eye contact,” Grindall noted.

The overall message to the girls? Hold yourself up so you’re proud of who you are.

Diane Howard, Portage Path and Helen Arnold counselor, said a letter she received from a student who participated in last year’s session underscored for her the program’s importance: “In thanking me for the experience, she said it made her entire school year!

“I believe this is something that will stick with these girls for the rest of their lives.”

Portage Path parent liaison Robbie J. Williams — ever the cheerleader for the cause — even made small hats, or fascinators, for each girl to wear: royal blue for the representatives from Portage Path, and bright yellow for Helen Arnold, reflective of their school colors.

Portage Path Principal Kim Wilson gave high marks to the day, calling the lessons Williams and Howard provide the girls “invaluable.”

And it’s “a delightful way for the girls to chat and make new friends,” Milford said.

The teachers, parent liaisons and girls agreed that it was a challenge at times to remember to use their inside voices, but they soldiered through.

“This is one of the most rewarding things we do at the club,” Madeline Milford said of the tea party, which is an outgrowth of a three-year relationship the club has had with Portage Path.

The club provides library books, helps purchase art supplies and works on holiday food drives.

Milford and Delcamp called the relationship with the school a good fit on a number of levels. Both the club and the original Portage Path school building date back more than 100 years.

“We’re helping to grow girls for the future,” Milford said. “It’s a way to give back.”

“Many of them walk past here every day on the way to school and probably wonder what goes on inside,” Delcamp said. “Well, this is a way of demystifying it. We’re also taking them on a tour of the mansion.”

Milford and Delcamp said some of their members are retired teachers who taught at the school.

Other adult chaperones giving the tea party and the girls high marks were Helen Arnold fifth-grade teacher Pamela Chatelain, Helen Arnold pastoral counselor Jodie?Hathaway, and counselor intern (at both schools) Tamara Bell.

The real takeaway — the food for thought — here?

It’s important to know which fork to use.

But if you really want others to think the best of you, it’s even more urgent never to speak with a forked tongue.

Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or jcardwell@thebeaconjournal.com.