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Schools Last Updated: Dec 12, 2012 - 10:39:53 AM


Time for tea at Daniel Island School
By Elizabeth Bush
Dec 12, 2012 - 10:35:56 AM

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Something special was brewing at the Daniel Island School on a recent Monday morning, as evidenced by the formal scene in the facility’s multipurpose room. About 80 fourth grade students were the honored guests at a proper English tea party, but a few good lessons on etiquette and the popular drink’s history were also on the menu, courtesy of teacher Elizabeth Pilling and her husband, Mark, a native of Great Britain.
“Tea is like everybody’s friend in England,” said Master Pilling, as he stood at the front of the room to address his young pupils. “The first thing people ask when you to go someone’s house is ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ It’s part of the social fabric…and it has a very calming influence.”
The children sat in perfect attention, their hands clasped neatly in their laps. The boys were all in jackets and ties, while the girls wore colorful dresses and, in a few cases, bonnets and white gloves. Before them, on tables adorned with crisp white linens and fresh flowers, porcelain plates and tea cups sat ready to be filled. The event marked the completion of the students’ recent reading of The Secret Garden, a story in which teatime is prominently featured.
As Mr. Pilling spoke in his native accent, the eager students learned that tea was invented by accident nearly 5,000 years ago, after some leaves fell down from a tree into a cup of water held by a Chinese emperor. Today, about 165 million cups of tea are consumed every day in the United Kingdom, he added. They also heard that there are two types of tea times – “high tea,” which is served late in the afternoon or early evening, and “low tea,” a more casual occasion that also features cakes, cookies and other treats.
“That’s what we’re doing today,” he said. “We’re having a low tea!”
The group received a few tips about proper behavior for ladies and gentlemen, such as how to fold napkins and where to place them, how to gently “dab” and not “swipe” your mouth, and the best spot to set your teacup when you’re done.
“Masters, when you are with a lady, whether it is your grandmom, your mom or your sister, and you are at a table, you should offer to pull the chair out and help them sit down,” added Mr. Pilling. “It’s just a good thing for you to do. So you’re learning something today that you’re going to be able to do for the rest of your life.”  
The Daniel Island School’s first “English Tea” went off without a hitch, with all participants brimming with praise.
“It’s kind of cool to have the experience of doing it, because we read The Secret Garden and they have tea in it a lot,” said student Keegan Bittner. “…Plus it’s fun dressing up once in a while.”
“I think it’s delicious and I’ll probably never get to do it again!” added his classmate Nola Mercadante.
“It’s really fun because we get to do all this stuff that they did 100 years ago,” said Will Culler.
Parent volunteers in aprons dashed in and around tables, serving up cups of the Pillings’ favorite tea, P.G. Tips, as well as treats for the students.
“They did a great job!” said Susan Schmenk, whose son, Thomas, is a fourth grader. “They have worked on this together. It’s been so cute, and they knew exactly what they were doing.”
Principal Marty French, who was seated at one of the tables with a group of students, was equally impressed.
“I am so very proud of their manners, and for their ability to keep a table discussion,” she said.
Mrs. Pilling, who conducted etiquette sessions with students in the weeks leading up to the event, hopes to be able to make the activity an annual celebration.  
“The children were outstanding!” she said. “They behaved perfectly, listened attentively, participated enthusiastically, dressed beautifully and were exceedingly polite throughout the tea.”
Already, the tea party’s effects have begun spilling over into other activities, she added. Several parents have announced that a new tradition of gathering for tea after school has been established in their homes. Pilling praised the efforts of fourth grade parents for pitching in to make the school’s first proper “English Tea” such an overwhelming success.
“The children will rise to any occasion and will soak up any new experience as long as we go that extra mile to provide it,” she said.
For Master Pilling, who got to share a beloved tradition from his homeland, the event clearly made the grade…and then some.
“I got into it a bit…gave a little history,” he said. “It was fun. They got fed as well…and I got to have my tea!”
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