A class for honing social skills

The basic principle: to treat people with kindness and respect

Posted: Monday, July 25, 2005

Alaska is a place of wilderness but it doesn't mean that one should forego politeness.

Monica Brandner, Mrs. Alaska in 1998 and 1999, started an etiquette business in July, teaching teenagers and children everything from table manners to body posture.

"I prefer to use the word social skill. Etiquette is more of a 1900 description. Social skill is more 21st century," Brandner, 42, said.

"My focus is to help people navigate through any social environment," said Brandner, whose sharp black suit and high-heeled shoes fit the image of Miss Manners.

Brandner said the basic principle of courtesy is to treat people with kindness and respect.

"Good manners is the key to build positive friendship and strong self-esteem," Brandner said. "When you have confidence, you treat people better."

In her pre-teen style class, five girls between 9 and 12 years old learned to check their posture by standing against a wall, shaking hands with a firm grip and smiling before answering a phone call.

"People can hear a smile in your voice," Brandner said.

Alora Pilgrim, 10, said when she told her friends that she was going to take an etiquette class, they were not thrilled about it. But she found the class entertaining.

"I know how to introduce myself," Pilgrim said. "That will be useful when I meet new people."

Skin care was an essential part of the pre-teen style class. Girls put cucumber slices on their eyes and applied green mask on their faces.

"Skin care is a question a lot of teenage girls ask themselves," Brandner said. "When they break out or get a pimple, it really affects their self-esteem.

"That may sound superficial but it is reality," Brandner said. "I am giving them a little gold nugget in their life to help them build their self-esteem."

Danielle Shilling, 11, said doing a facial was her favorite part of the program.

"You should pamper your face with special product so your face looks younger when you get old," said Shilling, who is Brandner's niece.

Some of her Brandner's classes are not limited to girls. Boys can take classes on how to be a gentleman.

"Parents spend thousands of dollars in camps to help their children in the area of sports," Brandner said. "The reality is that you can be the most talented guy in the world but have no people skills. I want to teach young men that the greatest strength they can have is not physical strength but the strength of their heart."

Parents said they sent their children to Brandner's classes because children are more willing to take advice from someone other than their parents.

"Sometimes kids just turn their parents out," said Kelly Shilling, Danielle's mother. "They think we are nagging."

Learning manners is not cheap. A four-hour pre-teen style class costs $55. A dining table manners class, including a four-meal course, costs $100. But some parents said the classes are worthy it.

"Good manners cross cultural boundaries," said Mary Jane Pilgrim, who has sent Alora to a young ladies' class and a pre-teen style class. Alora will take a dining table class from Brandner later this summer.

"Good manners probably serves me as well as any college degree I have," Mary Jane Pilgrim said.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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