BROOKSVILLE — They can been seen all over the school, dapper young men who look as though they could be headed to a board meeting instead of reading or math classes.
The boys are members of the Urban Gentlemen's Club at Pine Grove Elementary School.
"Sometimes we call it the Guys' Club for short," said Pine Grove assistant principal Nick Pagano, who founded the group.
"The neat Guys' Club," added third-grader and club member Santiago Pinkney, 9.
One day a week, club members dress up for school in shirts and ties. Some even show up in suits, complete with vests.
The venture began about two months ago.
"I read a story about a teacher in North Carolina who started it in his school, and I thought I'd start it here," Pagano said. "We chose Tuesdays."
The day, though, can change if there are going to be special visitors at the school on another day. One point that Pagano stresses: "You never know who you're going to meet."
Parents and teachers have been supportive, Pagano said.
"They are very excited about it. Both groups have been donating dress shirts and ties," he said. "I'm overwhelmed with the amount of support."
He mentioned that there is still a need for dress shirts in boys' sizes 10-12 and 14-16, in case any community members might want to contribute. And ties, particularly small ones, are also welcome.
The teachers, Pagano said, began to notice that the participating boys started "conducting themselves in a very positive manner." Third-grade teacher and team leader Ellen Lewis is one of those.
"It would be nice to have them dress up more often, because the behavior in the classroom changes that day," Lewis said.
She told the story of one student, whom she and Pagano described as a sweet boy who didn't always make the best choices. On a recent Tuesday, he held a door open for Lewis, and she said she was floored.
All of the school's boys are invited to join, and so far Pagano estimates that about one-third — 100 or so — pre-kindergarteners through fifth-graders have. The word is getting around, and Pagano is trying to raise interest. In May, he hopes to have a community member as a guest speaker.
Member and third-grader Thomas Imerson, 9, wants to help with that interest.
"I'm trying to get some of the boys in my class to join in," Thomas said.
As for why he joined, he said, "At first I thought Mr. Pagano would just be giving us high fives. But then when I saw that he was going to meet with us and do cool activities, I decided to join."
His mother bought him a new shirt and shoes.
Third-grader Christos Hantzis, 9, says he has noticed changes in the way fellow students treat him on Tuesdays.
"If you dress up, you can look around the place and people say you look good and people are nice to you," he said. "I feel really happy because it's really nice. It feels awesome."
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"I feel pretty good about myself," he said. "We learn how to respect ourselves."
And there seems to be a side benefit for Santiago.
"When we wear a suit, we get to impress the ladies," he said.
Pagano hopes to build and retain interest in the club next year with meetings to discuss manners, how the boys can conduct themselves as gentlemen and how to be role models and leaders. They may receive treats, too.
"I want to do some special things for them," he said, such as pizza or ice cream once a month. In addition, he is considering breakfasts or lunches with guest speakers. "I don't want this to become old for them."
Pagano would like to see other schools pick up the idea of the club. He said he would be willing to sponsor another school. And he has noticed that the girls at Pine Grove seem to feel a little left out, so he is looking at some kind of club for them as well.
He sees the benefits of dressing up for the boys.
"They stand taller," he said. "They hold their heads up higher, and they have more confidence in themselves. I tell the boys, 'Look good, feel good, do good.' "