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Live Oak third and five graders learn, practice interpersonal skills
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Live Oak third graders stared across the table at their peers Friday morning. Sometimes it was forced, sometimes natural, but they were practicing maintaining eye contact.

Teacher Velika Hurst is working with students to develop their “life skills,” the traits that people take for granted but can make a big difference when interacting with others, particularly in the workplace.

The students role-played the boss-employee and adult-child relationships and although their eye contact was good, their voices were soft, their body language displayed a lack of confidence and their conversational skills were lacking. Those are all skills the students will continue to work on.

Hurst based the class on “The Essential 55,” a book written by iconic educator Ron Clark that gives 55 guidelines for living and interacting with others.

The class covers basic concepts such as: answering questions that are asked of you and also asking questions to be polite, shaking hands when meeting a person, keeping eye contact when speaking and listening, dressing properly and even holding the door open for people as a sign of courtesy.

But Hurst also delves into more complex topics, such as the difference between arguing and debating and the idea that debating and discussing topics shows a person is engaged and contributing.

“We have a lot of policies and rules and part of the class is asking ‘Why does this rule exist?’ Why do we have these policies in place,” Hurst said.

Hurst also worked with students on not putting their hands over their mouth when talking and being aware of what body language tells the other person.

The school system and Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce hope the class will help students continue to focus on and hone those skills.

Shannon Davis, the chamber’s director of business retention and expansion, spends most of her time trying to improve Newton County’s workforce, and business and industries tell her many workers lack interpersonal business skills, often called “soft skills” in the business world.