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Once a week, sixth-grade boys at Stearns Elementary School show up for class dressed for success, wearing button-down long-sleeved shirts and ties.

Instead of lunch recess, they gather in the school library to practice public speaking, conflict resolution, and goal setting, and learn about what sixth-grader Devin Weiser-Jones has dubbed the “Ties ‘N’ Guys Way.”

“Earning respect and learning how to treat others better, becoming a better young man, that’s the Ties ‘N’ Guys Way,” the sixth-grader explained, smoothing his blue tie against his white dress shirt.

Stearns Elementary School Vice Principal Ruben Paschal created Ties ‘N’ Guys after reading about a similar program on the East Coast. He serves as a role model and mentor, working with the students on specific skills – public speaking, a firm handshake, tying a tie, and making a good first impression. Participation is optional, but every sixth-grade boy signed up.

“What inspired me were the kids,” Paschal said. “At this age, they need direction and I wanted them to get involved in a program where they’re learning about respect and the skills they need to be successful.”

Paschal never wore a shirt and tie until his first teaching job. His principal at the time, Brant Baldini, gave him a few ties, and advice that he has followed ever since: “Look sharp. People will take you seriously.”

Sixth-grader Diego Miranda admits he feels differently on the days he wears his tie. “When I put on my shirt and tie, I feel more respect for myself and I am more respectful to others,” he said. “It helps me remember the Ties ‘N’ Guys Way.”

Paschal kicked off the program last year, but it was sidelined when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools. He restarted in mid-February, using donations to provide each sixth-grade boy with a new dress shirt and tie. Principal Beth Clark budgeted $500 for the purchases. Walmart provided a discount. Chiloquin principal Scott Preston, Bonanza principal Jordan Osborn, and Paschal all donated ties.

The week before spring break, the group met in the library to practice public speaking skills by asking questions of P.E. teacher Brandon Powell. They stood, clearly asked their questions, looking directly at Powell and listening carefully to his answers.

After the meeting, sixth-grader Diego Ramirez-Serrato talked about his decision to join Ties ‘N’ Guys.

“I first I thought it would be boring, but after I started doing it every week, it became fun,” he said. “I’ve learned how to shake hands, and when I talk to someone, I look at them. I am more respectful to everyone.” He also has a public speaking goal: “By the end of the year, instead of reading off the paper, I want to be able to just stand up and talk.”

Paschal is pleased with the program’s impact so far, and he plans to continue it each year with a new group of sixth-graders. To do that, he’ll need another set of shirts and ties.

“The shirt and tie go with the student,” he said. “I want them to have their own shirt and tie at this age. … Is this a building block to them becoming successful? I hope it is.”