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Sarah Janssen | The Journal Gazette
DeVon Cooper, center, called on two Smith Academy for Excellence student volunteers, Jay Thomas, right, and Dimitri Burton for an example.

Etiquette, life lessons for academy students

In front of you is a formal place-setting with two different glasses: one is a regular-looking glass and the other looks more like a goblet. Which do you choose for lemonade?

“That one is for water,” Jack Zoerb, a student at Smith Academy for Excellence, said pointing to the regular-looking glass.

Zoerb and his nearly 70 classmates at the all-boys charter school received an etiquette lesson Monday morning, followed by a luncheon served at Hall’s Guesthouse featuring several guests and speakers.

Etiquette lessons included which glass or fork to use at what time as well as what topics were appropriate to discuss and at what volume level to converse.

But the school has taught overall behavior such as respect and attentiveness all year, said principal and founder Thomas Smith. The discipline to eat properly translates to other areas of life, he said.

Deeno Hall, a photographer who owns his business, spoke at the luncheon and was impressed with how well behaved and eager to learn the students were.

During his remarks Hall asked students where they saw themselves in five years.

“I was surprised to hear that they had plans and many of them included college,” he said.

When he was in high school, Hall said he didn’t remember many of his classmates having such goals. Smith Academy opened in the fall and enrolls about 70 students in grades six through nine.

John Dortch, president and CEO of The Preston Joan Group and a local businessman, organized the lunch, hoping to teach students to be prepared to tackle whatever comes their way.

He invited Hall and DeVon Cooper, another local businessman, to speak to students about overcoming obstacles.

Cooper’s brother was killed in 2010.

He had been involved in selling drugs and “living a lifestyle we were exposed to young,” he said. That same year his mother was shot in the leg. At 24, Cooper said he wants to be “a difference-maker.”

He encouraged students to have a soldier’s mindset, approaching each day like a battle, and using drive, vision and faith to turn away from the lifestyle his brother was living when he was killed.

“A man who has passion for something will have an effective plan to get it accomplished,” he said.

Hall also told students that having solid and specific goals will help them stay focused as life happens.

“We don’t live in a perfect world,” Hall said later. “Whatever hand they’re dealt, I hope they play it to the best of their ability.”