By Curt Yeomans
Etorsha Reese, the faculty sponsor for Hawthorne Elementary School's Producing Excellence That Always Leads to Success (P.E.T.A.L.S.) program, challenged her students, and members of the school's Males and Mentors (M. & M.s) group, to strive to be "precious pearls and different diamonds" on May 23, during Hawthorne's annual debutante ball at Mundy's Mill High School.
She explained that the female students, the P.E.T.A.L.S., are the pearls and the male students, the M. & M.s, are the diamonds. She continued her metaphor by saying that pearls and diamonds are special gems, which take a long time to create, and are only worn with other pearls and diamonds.
"If they are not making straight A's, or doing what they are supposed to be doing, they are not pearls or diamonds ... they are fakes," Reese told the students.
The debutante ball is the culmination of a year in which the students were taught how to become young ladies, or gentleman. They learned social skills, such as how to hold a door open for a lady, or how to set a table, but they also learned the importance of setting goals and working hard to achieve their dreams.
"It's the difference between being an employee and being an employer," Reese said.
Throughout the year, the P.E.T.A.L.S. raised funds to make the debutante ball a success, by setting up mock companies and using those companies to make money. Some students set up restaurants and sold baked goods, while others set up jewelry-making companies. The students also solicited donations from neighbors and family members.
"I learned that you can do whatever you want to do as long as you try hard," said fifth-grader Thalia Ortiz.
Fannie Cham, whose daughter, Candice Ocvil, is a member of P.E.T.A.L.S., said the community needs to be made more aware of the things going on in both groups. "The school is working to make these children become better people," Cham said.
While the P.E.T.A.L.S. learn how to be young ladies, the M. &. M.s are learning about discipline, being a gentleman and exhibiting sportsmanship, from their faculty sponsor, Assistant Principal Marcus Jackson, and the male teachers at the school.
"People are acting more like gentleman," said fifth-grader Johnathan Dennis. "People are getting better grades, and they are showing more sportsmanship."
They walk everywhere with perfect posture and their shirts tucked in. Like the P.E.T.A.L.S., the M. & M.s learn how to take care of themselves, how to dress in a dignified manner, set goals, work hard and have an entrepreneurial spirit.
"I'm going to make $50,000 to $60,000 per hour when I grow up," said fifth-grader Deontae King. "I'm going to own my own company, called the King Company, and it's going to be in New York City. I'm going to be just like Donald Trump when I grow up."
King's mother, Juanita Ransome, has been pleased with the positive effects she has seen the group have on her son. "He's more courteous and has really taken this to heart," Ransome said. "This ball is really wonderful, because you dream about seeing them do something like this. It gives you a glimpse of the young men, and the young ladies they will become some day. It makes me very proud."
When the night of the ball arrived, the P.E.T.A.L.S. showed up in Cinderella-like gowns, and the M. & M.s wore suits. The P.E.T.A.L.S. member who raised the most money for the ball was crowned Debutante of the Year. This year, the title went to fifth-grader Morghan Sumpter.
"It feels good to be crowned Debutante of the Year," Sumpter said. "The best part about being in P.E.T.A.L.S. is getting to work with other people, learning with them and having fun at the same time."