Elite is a state of mind

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 12, 2010

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – If one visits Emily C. Watkins Elementary School on a Wednesday, he or she might notice a handful of girls who look a little different from the rest of their peers. Instead of donning the khaki shorts or skirts and purple shorts that comprise the normal Watkins uniform, these young ladies wear blue skirts with knee socks pulled high, crisp, starched white blouses and blue blazers. It may seem a bit much for elementary school students, but these are no ordinary students. They are the founding members of the Emily C. Watkins Elite Ladies Club.

The ladies — fifth-graders D’neshia Mitchell, Taylor Griffin, Tre-shae Love, Akira Miles Neya Smith and Shandrika Woods — were each selected by their teachers for exhibiting characteristics appropriate to being called an “elite lady.”

“It was kind of a surprise,” said Woods.

While it may have been a surprise to most of them, each seems to have embraced the club and its strict guidelines as well as the opportunities it presents with open arms.

Griffin said she thought by becoming a member of the club she “would become a new and improved person.”

Miles shared her optimism.

“I thought I was really going to be able to succeed in it. I knew I could do what I was supposed to do,” she said.

Along the way, students have had to maintain their academics, attendance and classroom behavior while remembering to always be a good role model for their classmates, said club sponsor Bernetta Ambres. At their weekly meetings, the members have learned such lessons as “how a lady acts,” “how to use etiquette,” “how to dress properly” and “how to eat properly.”

The young ladies have also had the opportunity to glean bits of wisdom from guest speakers, who have ranged from Judge Madeline Jasmine, Judge Mary Becnel and Janet Clayton of Shell to Murle Robinet, the mother of Watkins Principal Toni Robinet.

And while learning how to act properly has merits in and of itself, perhaps the greatest benefit these girls have gained from being a member of the club is a sense of self worth.

“I feel professional and successful,” said Love.

Recently, the girls got to show off what they had learned at a mother-daughter tea, where some of the girls drank hot tea for the first time. That day held another first for the elite ladies. Each was presented with their own set of pearls, courtesy of Ambres’ sister, Sheronda Hayes.

“That’s a symbol of being a lady,” said Ambres.

Ambres explained that next year the club will expand — along with the school — to include sixth-graders.

“We started small because we wanted to lay a foundation,” said Ambres.