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Lower Richland Students Learn to ‘Dress for Success’ Through Community Partnership

What does a fashion show have to do with education? Quite a lot, in the case of the Dress for Success Showcase at Lower Richland High School.

The school hosted the third annual showcase Tuesday, with hundreds of students and parents packing the auditorium to watch 15 students display the business etiquette skills learned through the school’s partnership with EngenuitySC and local businesses and community members.

“They get an entire program all about how to survive in the workplace, from business dress to how to eat during a professional meeting,” explained EngenuitySC Executive Director Meghan Hickman. “And they get a full head to toe makeover that they get to unveil to their fellow students showing what it means to be successful in business etiquette.”

The makeover began with an April 7 shopping trip, in which the 15 students went to JCPenney along with professionals from around the Midlands who volunteered to serve as mentors. They shopped for clothes suitable for interviews and office wear, and JCPenney picked up the tab for several outfits for each student.

They also enjoyed a dinner at Solstice Kitchen during which Georgia Doran of the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business went over “soft skills” including communication and language, personal habits, leadership and other interpersonal skills.

Tuesday, the students went to Paul Mitchell The School Columbia for free makeovers for the show, along with tips from the experts on business-appropriate makeup and hairstyles. After that, they dressed in their new business clothes and took their turns in the spotlight to loud cheers from the crowd as emcee Alicia Barnes from ABC Columbia introduced each one in turn.

“It’s not just exciting for the participants. It’s exciting for the parents and the students in the audience,” said Richland School District One Board Chairwoman Cheryl Harris, who was on hand to watch along with Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon. Harris said the program is “an opportunity of creating the holistic child. The English, the math, sciences, study skills, those are important, but now we have to teach those social skills on how you dress for the interview.”

“It’s not enough just to have it up here,” Harris said, pointing to her head. “Sometimes you’ve got to display it in the way you dress.”

Hickman said preparing students for the future is not only the right thing to do, but also beneficial for the entire community.

“We’re in the business of creating a talent pipeline here in the Midlands to create a more prosperous region, and it’s about building the entire student,” she said. “It’s about showing students what success looks like and preparing them for that far beyond what the classroom can offer, and that’s why we’re so proud to be a part of this partnership.”

Lower Richland Principal Kelvin Lemon agreed. “It’s important that they learn these lessons and some of these soft skills we don’t have as part of the general curriculum. It helps educate and build the whole child for life after high school.”

Hickman, who has helped lead the program in all three years of its existence, said seeing the effect on the participants makes all the work worth it.

“Every year when those students walk out on the stage I get a little teary-eyed,” she said. “Their confidence level is something that I wish every student in this district and beyond could get the opportunity to experience, because it is why we do what we do.”

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