By Chelsea Bissell, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public AffairsFebruary 26, 2013
VILSECK, Germany -- Dressed in coats and ties and pretty dresses, Vilseck Elementary School students strode proudly to a long table adorned with candelabras and spring flower arrangements, Feb. 21.
As they lunched on lasagna, Caesar salad and sparkling grape juice, the students discussed books and movies with their principal, vice principal and Col. Douglas Sims, commander of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment.
Every quarter, the Vilseck Community and Spouses Club hosts Dining at the Ritz, a formal lunch for the top performers of each fourth- and fifth-grade class at VES. Based on GPA or greatest academic improvement for that quarter, teachers choose two lucky students from their class to join Principal Scott Finlay, Assistant Principal Becky Balcer and a special guest from the community for an elite dining experience.
Sims, this quarter's special guest, opened the luncheon with a toast praising the students for their hard work and extolling their great luck to live and travel in Europe. When he finished, the students raised their glasses of sparkling grape juice and sipped, before diving into their meal.
Dining at the Ritz serves as both incentive and reward for the upper classmen of VES.
"It's a huge honor for them," said Finlay. "It's something all the kids in the school look forward to."
"I'm really happy because I've always wanted to go here and have a nice lunch with my friends," said fourth-grader Emma Kate Allman, who cites art and reading as her two favorite subjects.
The high-achieving students are not only recognized at the lunch, but also during a schoolwide assembly. Their names are called and, one by one, they stand and receive their applause.
"You can just see it on their faces how proud they are to be here and how proud they are of themselves. It makes them feel special," said Finlay.
For an added boost of distinction, school counselor Febbie Ramsey taught a table etiquette class to the honored students a few days prior to the lunch.
Their lesson seemed to have had an effect. During the meal, the students sat erect in their seats, napkins smooth in their laps. They spoke easily and fluently about books, their favorite subjects and the applicability of math in everyday life with their adult guests. They signaled the waiters -- VCSC volunteers -- politely, but without hesitation.
For the past 13 years, the VCSC has worked to bring Dining at the Ritz to VES. The group completely funds and oversees the program at the school, setting the table, organizing volunteers, making the food, ordering the cake and sending out handmade invitations for each student.
While VES is currently the only school participating in Dining at the Ritz, VCSC Publicity Chair Kirsten Starkey hopes that the other local schools will join in.
"We volunteer to do it at the other schools, but Vilseck always takes us up on it," she said. "They knock on our door every quarter."