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The Swan Project: Girls, please meet social etiquette and good manners

The girls had grown up poor, lost their parents to drugs and jail and God knows what. They emerged from childhood uncouth and unrefined. Most had never eaten at a nice restaurant, set a table or put on makeup.
Not one of them had ever walked in heels.
Now teenagers, they were all classmates at a school for troubled girls. When a counselor told them they had to take an etiquette class, they protested.
Why would someone who was always hungry want to know how to throw a dinner party? If you weren't sure you wanted to go on living, why would you care about being a lady?
In this special report, writer Lane DeGregory and photographer Kathleen Flynn show what happened when an idealistic teacher tried to make diamonds out of coal.
Can knowing which fork to use change a girl's life?

Story by Lane DeGregory | Photography by Kathleen Flynn

The story
ETIQUETTE (et'i kit; also, -ket') n. (Fr étiquette, lit, TICKET) 1. the forms, manners and ceremonies established by convention as acceptable or required in social relations, in a profession, or in official life

-- Webster's New World College Dictionary

How to help
Most students at the PACE Center for Girls struggle with poverty. They need everything from clothes and shoes to deodorant and magic markers. You can send a check to any of the schools, or send supplies including:

Clothes and shoes for teenage girls
Personal hygiene items including shampoo, deodorant, body lotion
Hair accessories and hair dryers, curling irons
Art supplies
School supplies, journals, paper, pens and pencils
Gift cards
Computers or electronic equipment
School locations include:

Kedine Johns -- Miss Kedine to her girls -- instructs Savannah Kowalski, left, and Lindsey Kennedy on how to eat soup properly. "Scoop the spoon away from you; don't slurp," she said.

ABOUT THIS SPECIAL REPORT: Last fall, a counselor at the PACE Center for Girls in Lakeland, Fla., came up with an idea for a class in etiquette.

At PACE, counselor Kedine Johns worked with disadvantaged girls who knew nothing about manners and social etiquette. Many of the teenagers didn't own dresses, had never worn makeup, had never been to a sit-down restaurant, and didn't know anything about table manners, phone etiquette, or how to behave in a social situation. Johns believed the girls would be better prepared for work and social life if they learned basic rules of etiquette.

Johns' etiquette class lasted eight weeks. Two St. Petersburg Times journalists, Lane DeGregory and Kathleen Flynn, observed the classes, where the girls studied dinner etiquette, proper grooming, table manners and first date etiquette. The etiquette class culminated with a sit-down luncheon at a fancy restaurant, which served as the girls' final exam.

DeGregory, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, joined the St. Petersburg Times in 2000. She can be reached at degregory@sptimes.com. Flynn joined the St. Petersburg Times in 2002 and can be reached at kflynn@sptimes.com.

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