Preparation begins weeks before when Diana (elem. teacher) and the children decide on the menu. Usually this involves the children making suggestions and then voting on those suggestions. Over the years, the dinner has included any combination of appetizers, salads, soup, entrees and desserts. Depending on the group of children, the dinner could include anything from macaroni & cheese to ginger maple glazed chicken. This year there has been talk of Peking duck.
Once the menu is set, the office helps them make up place-cards. The menu is printed on one side of the card and the child's name is handwritten on the other. Here is an assortment of place-cards that have graced the tables of formal dinners in the past.
The next step is buying the food. The menu is broken down into ingredients and Diana (elementary teacher) helps them figure out the amounts they will need. Once the shopping list is written out, a small group of the children are taken to a local grocery store to purchase everything they will need to make the dinner. Although they are driven to the store by an adult, they are not guided around the store. The children are expected to push the cart around the store and find the items on their list. If they need help, they are to ask someone who works at the store. Now this does not mean that the driver just dumps the children at the store then goes to grab a coffee. ;0) Far from it. Having been the adult in question on several occasions, I find it best to hang out by the magazine rack in case the children need to find me.
Once the groceries have been bought and paid for, the children return to the school and the cooking begins. By this time, Diana and another group of children have had time to really look at the recipes and decide how many steps are involved.
While the food is being prepared, another group of children make the table arrangements. Our Board Chairman, Eveline, brings in an assortment of fresh flowers every year and guides the children as they make beautiful centrepieces for the tables.
By 3 o'clock, the food has all been prepared and put away, the classroom has been tidied and the table has been set, so the children go home to prepare themselves for the festivities. It is a Formal Dinner and the children take great pleasure in dressing up in their finery. Over the years, we have seen everything from three piece suits to freshly pressed Hawaiian shirts, opera length gloves to feather boas, and bolo ties to bow-ties.
Once the children are gone, the party elves spring into action. (The party elves are Diana, me, and anyone else we can press into service). We set the tables, string fairy lights, tie balloons to the back of each chair, set up the music, and begin to warm the food for serving.
By this time the children begin to arrive and find the room has been transformed in their absence. (At this point, the parents are "allowed" to stay for 15 minutes to take pictures. After that, they are politely whisked out the door so that the festivities can begin.)
Then children find their places by reading the place cards.
Excited chatter fills the air as they discuss the table settings, their attire, how much they are looking forward to the dinner, and how" cool" the whole event is. This is my favourite part of the whole evening. The youngest children are attending their first Formal Dinner. For the previous 3 years, as Primary students, they watched (and smelled) the preparations and often wished they could take part. Now, as they enter the classroom, one can see that they truly feel they've arrived. They stand a little taller, eyes wide and shining. Many of them don't stop smiling all evening. In like manner, the older elementary children enter the room with happy anticipation. Although they've attended previous Formal Dinners, their renewed sense of wonder is unmistakable.
Once the children are seated, the food is brought to the serving table. One by one the children bring their plates to the food table and are served by their teachers.
They politely wait until everyone has been served and then.......the dinner begins. Table manners are expected and the children have been carefully schooled to say "Interesting" when they find they don't like the taste of something.
After so much sitting around and eating, someone inevitably asks "May we dance?" So tables are moved out of the way and the music is turned up. The children dance and dance......until.......their parents arrive and it is time to say farewell.
Our Formal Dinner is a long held school tradition. It is another bonding experience for the elementary children as well as a safe venue for the children to practically apply the lessons of formal socializing. It is also a lot of fun for students and teachers alike.