Yes, Please, to Social Skills at South Orange Etiquette School

At The New School of Etiquette, the main course is a melange of social graces intended to serve students in their business and social encounters.

Tatia Adams-Fox, center, leads a group of etiquette students, from left, Adina Foster of Glen Ridge; Julia and Olivia Rein of Chatham; Charlie and Vince Otten of Cranford; and Angelina Capari of Belleville.
Tatia Adams-Fox, center, leads a group of etiquette students, from left, Adina Foster of Glen Ridge; Julia and Olivia Rein of Chatham; Charlie and Vince Otten of Cranford; and Angelina Capari of Belleville.
Photo by Andy Foster

Dining skills are only the appetizer at New School of Etiquette in South Orange. The main course is a melange of social graces intended to serve students in their business and social encounters.

Tatia Adams-Fox, a former Warner Music executive, started the school seven years ago after realizing her own then 6-year-old daughter, Thailer, was experiencing social anxiety. “At home, Thailer was engaging and animated, but at school, in public, and around her peers, she was introverted,” says Adams-Fox. “We’d be in a store and I’d tell her, ‘You’re going to pay the bill. Walk up to the cashier, make eye contact, give her the payment, and say have a nice day.’ She’d have an instant meltdown.”

Adams-Fox says she took for granted the social interactions her daughter struggled with. “A lot of parents like me, who are vocal and opinionated, have blinders on when it comes to their child’s anxiety,” she says. “They think these skills are innate.”

Basic dining skills are relatively easy to learn, says Adams-Fox, a certified etiquette teacher. At the heart of her curriculum are the more complex intangibles like body language, self-advocacy and effective communication.

How do you break the ice at a birthday party where you don’t know anyone? How do you conduct yourself at a college interview? These types of questions brought Montvale mom Ivette Mejia to NSOE for her daughter Alexia, 14, who was struggling with making new friends in high school.

After five one-on-one sessions with Adams-Fox, who uses role playing, and a series of confidence-building exercises to reinforce her own three R’s (repetition, review and retain), Mejia can see changes in her daughter. “Alexia is already more independent. It’s amazing,” Mejia says. “One of her homework assignments was to take the lead in grocery shopping, make the list, gather the items, handle checkout. It seems like a small thing, but allowing her to be in charge of it has helped her confidence­—a side benefit is that she appreciates me more.”

Adams-Fox says any student can benefit from her curriculum, especially kids who have been bullied, are smart but awkward, or are introverted. “This is not your typical etiquette school,” she says, “The kids have fun, they learn and they want to be here.”

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