Lunch with the Boys in Bowties

Hugh Mercer Elementary School's Boys and Bowties club at lunch in downtown Fredericksburg this week.

Instead of lunch in the cafeteria on Wednesday, the members of Hugh Mercer Elementary’s Boys and Bowties after-school club enjoyed herbal tea-infused water, matar paneer, and a classic wedge salad at Katora Coffee in downtown Fredericksburg.

“This is amazing,” said Lincoln Pretz, cutting into a slice of iceberg lettuce drizzled with balsamic reduction.

Prior to sitting down to lunch, the five fifth-grade boys had to complete two formal place settings, putting into effect knowledge they’ve gained while participating in the club, which is led by Hugh Mercer assistant principal Tony Wishard.

“Little spoon on the outside! Little spoon on the outside!” yelled Gio Streat.

During lunch, Wishard quizzed the boys on what they would do if they had to make a phone call during the meal (excuse themselves to the host or hostess), where they would put their napkins if they stood up from the table (next to their plates), and whether the bread plate should go on the right or left of the dinner plate (the left).

Wednesday’s lunch was the culminating event for the Boys and Bowties club, which has met once weekly this school year.

They’ve learned manners and etiquette, how to tie a necktie and match a pocket square—but also how to trust each other and how to think deeply about the effect words can have.

For the hurtful words exercise, the boys wrote down some of the hurtful words that have been said to them in the past and put a nail in a piece of wood to represent each word. The wood poked through with holes becomes a visual demonstration of the damage words can do.

“Even if you say sorry, the hole is still there,” Wishard said.

The boys wear their bowties to each club meeting. They earn their bowties after completing a trust exercise with a partner.

Wishard led a Bow and Bowties club for several years when he was a P.E. teacher at Hugh Mercer.

It’s been four or five years since he offered the club, but it’s had a lasting effect—Wishard said he’s talked with former students who still keep the bowtie they earned on their bedside table.

Participation in the club is 100% voluntary, Wishard said.

“Some of the students have had discipline referrals, but not since they’ve been in the club,” he said. “The goal is, if we can instill these lessons in one person, that can change the culture of a classroom. One classroom can then change the culture of a school, which can change the culture of a community, and so on.”

Wishard said he hopes to offer the club again next year and would love to see it expand. He’s already seeing the community step up to support it—just this week, a local church group dropped off a bag of donated bowties for next year’s club.

Christian Zammas, owner of Katora, offered to host and prepare the boys’ lunch this week after meeting Wishard in Giant and talking with him about the club.

“That’s how things happen in Fredericksburg,” Wishard said.

Wishard will be presenting on Boys and Bowties at the national Family Engagement Conference later this month and hopes the idea will spread to other schools in Fredericksburg City and the region.

Managing Editor and Correspondent