East Side instructor teaches life skills, maturity to young boys at East Side

Phil Ledford had an idea for a simple little club for the boys he taught, but it has quickly grown into a school-wide group that promotes not just important values young boys should strive towards, but why they should care about them in the first place.

Ledford, an instructor at East Side Elementary, said he came up with the idea for “East Side Boys to Men” after seeing a trend of missing male role models in his students’ lives.

“One of our jobs is to prepare them for life outside East Side,” he said.

To that end, he started the club once school came back in session early January.

East Side Boys to Men which meets every Wednesday from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. in his classroom, teaches skills such as how to tie a tie, how to treat women as well as each other, how to address authority figures and more. When it came to clothes, however, Ledford had a shortage, so he said he made a simple Facebook post asking for his friends’ help.

The result was beyond what he could have possibly expected, he said.

“It has been kind of overwhelming,” Ledford said. “It was like wildfire.”

Soon, he had so many ties the club members could have more than one, and the extra attention his efforts received meant his weekly club meetings have two dozen children attending at a time.

He said the club’s significance extends beyond what it teaches.

“These boys love to hear a compliment,” Ledford said. “When you dress a certain way, it gives you a certain feeling. There is a slight demeanor change.”

Children are able to learn how to be better people, he said, because the club gives them the confidence to strive towards that goal in the first place.

To Ledford, it is not enough to teach the students how to hold doors open for women. Instead, he also teaches them where the custom came from in the first place.

In the above example, Ledford said it stemmed in part from the large, wide dresses women used to wear, which often required both hands to keep the hem from dragging across the ground. Because of this, they had no free hands to open doors, so it was considered polite for the gentlemen to assist them.

Ledford said the children are attentive and even eager to see what’s next each week.

“They are good kids,” he said. “I teach the boys what it is like to be a young man.”

As the community has started bringing in dress shirts and other clothing items, he said he is working on possible trips to meet public figures and demonstrate what they have been learning, such as going out to lunch with the city or county mayor.

Above all, the club’s success, he said, is due to the community he is a part of.

“I moved to Elizabethton one and a half years ago,” Ledford said. “We have noticed when Elizabethton gets behind something, they really support it.”

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