LEHI — An English teacher at Willowcreek Middle School in Lehi recently decided to teach her students etiquette as they read the classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." Even she did not anticipate how far the young people would take their lesson in courtesy.
The novel is about a small town southern lawyer fighting racism in the 1930s.
"I knew that when I got ready to teach the story," said Margo Ungricht. "They have to know the culture to understand Scout, understand Boo, understand all of the social rules that bind them and also free them."
She gave them a guide to Southern-style manners. Opening doors, saying "yes, ma'am," or "no, sir" are suggestions.
There also are rules to live by, including:
Behave yourself. Don't be loud, coarse or cause a commotion.
Be friendly, whether you have been properly introduced or don't know the person from a hole in the ground.
Be modest. Never be highfalutin.
The eighth-graders in Ungricht's English class now stand when adults enter their room. The lessons have gone beyond their English classroom.
Class member Tanner Shumway said, "Once I started this, I noticed that when I was walking to other classrooms I'd wait for all the ladies to enter the room first and then when someone would walk in, I'd stand up. The teacher would look at me and I'd be like, 'Oh, wait, not English class,' but I'd still stand."
"Mrs. Ungricht is different from other teachers," said Anna Yoon, "because she always wanted something really brilliant from us, she made us think we were very special. When I come in from the hall, I just feel so loved because they're only just standing up for me and nobody else."
Eighth-grader Madeline Lee said, "I feel a lot safer around the school than I used to. All of my friends say I'm a lot more relaxed because I don't have to be afraid of anybody saying mean things around me."
Classmate Tanner Melior added, "My sisters and I help our mother and father out as much as possible now, you know. We bring the skills that we learn here, home."
Thursday, some of the students wrote letters to author Harper Lee, yet another generation expressing its gratitude for her life-changing book.
One student wrote, "Dear Miss Lee, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is like nothing I've read before. It has really opened my eyes to a lot of things, including that I can be more courageous."
"The very best of humanity walks into my classroom, and I honestly believe that I'm here not to teach them but they're to teach me how to be human," Ungricht said with emotion,
She says kind and courteous are no longer what they do, but who they are.