Foxglove Cotillion instills skills for success
Reprinted with permission of The Clayton Tribune
By Matt Payne | Journalist
Originally published in the Clayton Tribune Vol. 119, No. 33, Thursday, August 8, 2016
Cotillion is a word that might conjure images of young boys and girls uncomfortably wearing formal attire while learning the intricacies of aging societal rules.
Page Rhoad strongly dislikes that.
Rhoad is the owner of Foxglove Cotillion, Rabun County’s only such company. She wants to rework the public’s perception on etiquette classes from that of a stuffy affair to a fun social activity providing a new generation of a beneficial skillset.
“Our tagline is ‘Social skills for the social media generation,’” Rhoad said. “We want to instill in young children the skills they need before high school and before college. They are business skills, but they are more than business skills.”
Rhoad previously owned several successful cotillion operations. By 2014, she had been out of the game for a number of years. But around Christmas of that year, two of her four children, Clifton and Caroline Rhoad, surprised her with a website and a business card displaying the new business name.
“I said, ‘No thank you, I’m retired.’” Page said. “They said you have two weeks to think about it and we’re your business partners.”
By summer 2015, the business was up and running as students signed up for the first series of classes.
Page Rhoad’s preferred age group is that of children between fifth and eighth grades. The more socially and physically awkward the student, the more she enjoys teaching them.
Clifton Rhoad, an Atlanta-based strategist and Page Rhoad’s oldest child, said his own experiences in the program and his mother’s ability to connect with young people created in him the urge to see his mother return to the business.
“I don’t have a passion for etiquette,” Rhoad said. “I have a passion for giving children tools that will help them in the next step of life.”
That doesn’t mean manners are not a big deal. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
The name “Foxglove” aptly describes the family’s view on manners, as the foxglove plant is considered beneficial to healing when used in small amounts. In larger doses, Page Rhoad said, it can be deadly.
“In the right amount, manners are tools But if you use it as a weapon, it’s deadly,” Page said.
The family also places emphasis on the purpose of the classes, which are not to allow students to gain an air of superiority over others. The goal is to use what’s learned as a tool to help bring people together.
“Etiquette isn’t something that’s supposed to divide people. It’s something that’s actually suppose to bring them together,” Clifton Rhoad said, “because you’re teaching a kid how to make another kid comfortable no matter who they’re around.”
More information about the classes and Foxglove Cotillion can be found on its website at www.foxglovecotillion.com.
Introducing Page Rhoad & Foxglove Cotillion
Reprinted with permission from the Georgia Mountain Laurel magazine
Originally published in the April 2015 issue of the Georgia Mountain Laurel
Page Rhoad’s love story with Rabun County spans a life-time and has as many twists and turns as the mountain roads for which it’s famous.
Her great uncle, Walter T. Forbes, founded Athens “Y” Camp in Tallulah Falls in 1898; and both her father Bobby Forbes, and her father-in-law, built cabins on Lake Burton in the 1940’s. To this day, her dad tells stories of “splitting stumps” on water skis behind Dr. Jennings’ motorboat—the first of its kind on the lake.
After moving from the mild climate of Georgia to sunny Miami, Florida at 11 years old, her parents decided it was about time they enroll their children in Mrs. Hazel Nowakowski’s Cotillion classes—and so began Page’s journey.
An adventurous teenager, Page frequently laughs when reflecting back on how she would often paint her nails to hide the grease under them from working on her car, or the time she had to change her tire in the parking lot, wearing a leotard, immediately after dance practice. She was a Cotillion Assistant all throughout high school; and the significance of being able to make a good impression and politely make conversation with anyone, no matter if they had grease under their nails or danced ballet, wasn’t lost on her.
In college, at UNC Chapel Hill, Page taught ballroom dancing classes and graduated with a masters degree in Public Speaking. Around the same time, her old Cotillion teacher, Mrs. Nowakowski decided to license her curriculum, which was based around teaching civility and respect; That curriculum went on to become the basis for many of the Cotillion classes taught around the country today.
Page moved back to Georgia after falling in love with a Georgia Tech boy named Hal Rhoad, who she met on Lake Burton. They made a home for themselves in north Atlanta, and sometime after having 4 children (3 boys and 1 girl, all of which attended Cotillion), she was given the chance to run a small Cotillion franchise in Johns Creek.
Over the next 7 years, Page’s ability to make manners and dancing fun for middle school students turned into 7 national awards.
She had an uncanny ability to get the best out of children at an age that usually brought out their worst.
She quickly expanded into multiple public and private schools and local country clubs, pulling together a small volunteer army of excited young mothers and hiring high school assistants along the way.
Then in 2011, now an empty nester with grown children, Page sold her Cotillion business and she and Hal moved to Rabun County full time. Hal continued to run the annual Lake Burton Fireworks Show in the summer, and their second son Cannon Rhoad began a property management company called Kingfisher Concierge. But as Page became more immersed in the community, including briefly teaching a public speaking class at Rabun County High School, she began to wonder how she could bring a sense of real-world confidence, respect, and civility back to a generation that too often hid behind their smartphones and tablets.
Who will teach social skills to a generation raised on social media?
Unbeknownst to Page, in the fall of 2014, her oldest son Clifton Rhoad (a strategy consultant and web developer) and her daughter Caroline Rhoad (a logistics expert and engineer with Coca Cola) hatched a plan behind her back. They formed Foxglove Cotillion, a small business based in Rabun County devoted to giving people an advantage in life, by teaching all the social graces Page had taught them. They then presented the partnership to their mother and asked her to give Cotillion a home in Rabun County. And so it began again.
Page immediately began developing the curriculum for the Cotillion Classes, which would be offered to middle school students, and Clifton began developing programs that the community could enjoy as well. Foxglove Cotillion kicks everything off this summer with a series of “Date Nights” centered around dessert and dancing. The idea is to give couples of all ages a chance to come enjoy dessert together, learn some tips and tricks from Page for formal dining etiquette, and have some fun learning some basic dance steps. Additional information can be found on the Foxglove website or by calling Page directly.
In the fall, Cotillion will get going full swing with 8 weeks of Classes offered for 5th - 8th grade students as an afterschool activity once a week. Spots will be very limited (15 boys and 15 girls per class), and will be first come first serve, based entirely on Foxglove’s Waiting List. You can pre-register for free by signing your student up for the Waiting List at www.FoxgloveCotillion.com (a beautiful, mobile-friendly website), where you can also read more about the classes, pricing, and upcoming events such as the “Fox Prom” and the “Fam Jam.”
As it turns out, some things do come all the way back around. With a full calendar of programs and events planned, Rabun County is returning to its roots in southern hospitality. And alongside her two children, Page is leading the way by teaching the secrets to southern charm.
My answer is yes and no, which may be a surprising answer from someone who teaches manners and etiquette. I believe manners are a framework rather than a centerpiece.
Manners do not equate character. They do not indicate if someone tells the truth, is kind, is a great friend, is a hard worker, or if they are competent.
Good manners are a framework that help create a good first impression. For example, thoughtful introductions dispel awkwardness and create common ground for conversation and new friendships. Manners often set you apart by giving you self-confidence and the ability to put others at ease. Simply standing when someone you don’t know enters a room communicates respect and civility. A solid handshake with good posture, a smile, and a polite comment, gives the impression of confidence. Even listening well, and actually focusing on the person speaking, will earn you a reputation as a good conversationalist, much faster than the person who talks constantly.
Manners can also set you apart by giving you confidence in uncomfortable situations. Knowing which fork and knife to use rarely matters within your own circle of family and friends. But, in a job interview at a nice restaurant, those details can mean the difference in whether you’re hired, or trusted with the responsibility of representing a company to its clients.
Over the years, I have asked hundreds of children to name a few common table manners. The top two are always “put your napkin in your lap” and “chew with your mouth closed.” My next question to the children is always, “Why are these important?” And you can just imagine their descriptions of what could fall in your lap without a napkin, or the visions of sitting across from someone who chews with their mouth open. The children get it! They understand that there are reasons behind manners.
Our tagline for Foxglove Cotillion is, “Social Skills for the Social Media Generation.” We know that students across the world communicate with the swipe of a smart phone. They Tweet, FaceTime, Skype, SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook and email. And these social media skills are essential. The devices and applications are becoming easier to use to achieve more complicated outcomes.
That said, it is still critically important to integrate soft skills in this digital arena. Communication without face-to-face interaction can be fast and convenient. It can also lead to misunderstandings. Without hearing a tone-of-voice, or seeing facial expressions, it’s difficult to measure the intentions of the sender. Learning to improve your communication style in person, and your tone via social media, gives you an advantage.
We want this social media generation to communicate effectively in the digital world. We also want them to make eye contact and carry on polite conversations with good posture when they are face-to-face. We want them to swipe their smart phone and access information immediately. We also want them to interview well for scholarships, and internships, and colleges. Ultimately, the person who ignores social skills, has set aside the truly important human values of social interaction.
Do manners matter? If you are assessing someone’s character, not at all. If you are choosing a friend, not at all.
Manners are not a weapon, they are a tool.
And they do make a difference in how you are perceived when someone does not know you. They can give you confidence in unfamiliar situations and afford you the ability to put others at ease.
Foxglove Cotillion offers 8 week etiquette courses in Rabun County, taught once a week as an after-school (or weekend) activity for 5th through 8th grade students in the fall and in the spring. Classes are limited to 15 boys and 15 girls. Pre-Register online to request an invitation by signing up for our Waiting List. We issue invitations in the order we receive requests. For more information on classes, visit our mobile-friendly website www.FoxgloveCotillion.com