NEW PORT RICHEY — In a Cotee River Elementary classroom, 18 fourth- and fifth-grade boys gathered at noon on a recent Friday.
They brought lunches and were served up a helping of good advice from Steve Loveless, Learning Design Coach and organizer of the Distinguished Gentlemen’s group. While the boys ate, Loveless taught.
“As we’ve heard with Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility,” said Loveless, pointing out a nearby chart with four words highlighting the group's focus: perseverance, commitment, courage, integrity.
The boys voluntarily joined the Distinguished Gentlemen that, among other ideals, emphasizes “dressing for success.”
They meet weekly and are encouraged to wear dressier clothes on the last Friday of each month when a guest speaker often is invited to share advice.
Sean Olsen, age 10 and a fifth-grader, wore a gray shirt with matching tie. He said it felt good to be dressed up, beaming at Loveless, who wore a shirt, tie and blazer.
“I think coming to this group helps us learn to be more of a gentleman when you get older,” said Olsen, adding that it’s important to have good manners, such as opening doors for others.
Loveless sees the need for boys at this age to have mentors to guide them.
Joining the group for lunch was parent volunteer Erwin “Ernie” Ernestine, father of group member Kyle Ernestine, age 9 and a fourth-grader.
“It’s important to get more males involved as role models,” said Ernie, who volunteers frequently in support of Kyle, his triplet sisters and other children or teachers who need help.
The Distinguished Gentlemen’s group lists 26 members, but anyone is welcome.
“There’s a mix of abilities of academics and behaviors in the group,” said Loveless, who recently attended a district curriculum meeting for the Medal of Honor character-development program. He sees the core values of that program lining up well with his plans for the Distinguished Gentlemen’s group.
A GoFundMe account has been established to help boys buy a Distinguished Gentlemen's T-shirt or clothes for dress-up days. Cotee River principal Sharon Slusser heaped praise on the boys and their leader.
“This is a wonderful group from many backgrounds, and Mr. Loveless is amazing with them,” she said.
For information on the Distinguished Gentlemen fundraising, go to gofundme.com/distinguished-gentlemen-of-cres.
Times Correspondent Gail Diederich is a retired teacher. She has 32 years of experience, including 28 years in Pasco County Schools, where she taught gifted students and was a reading specialist. She also taught education, general studies and business leadership at Pasco Hernando State College and at Saint Leo University.