three men
Don Bohannon, SSD superintendent, left, and Tom Bamvakais, right, with a Manners Matter student

Six years ago, Tom Bamvakais, a teacher in SSD’s Vocational Skills Program (VSP) at Jefferson Barracks Medical Center, initiated a program to help students with disabilities develop better social skills. That first year, seven students in his class and the VSP program at the St. Louis Zoo participated. Today, he conducts 10 classes. About 75 students benefit from his program, Manners Matter.

He started by sending a questionnaire to his students’ parents and learned that very few of the students had ever been to a restaurant. Of course they wouldn’t know how to act. He noticed that at lunch students might be sitting alone, on their phones and not interacting with others.

Tom says, “I see the students move from a state of no self awareness in public to one where they are aware of their behavior and therefore are able to interact with others successfully.”

He conducts one session a week for each class for 10 weeks. Among the topics are how to act at a restaurant, a sports event and an interview, polite behavior in an elevator, when to use a cell phone, and what to say at a funeral. Parents report higher levels of positive interaction and less arguing at home with siblings.

Dave Baker, SSD assistant superintendent for vocational education, meets with students in the Manners Matter program at a picnic in Kirkwood Park

There are several social events when students are able to try out their new behaviors. About halfway through the course, there’s a Valentine’s Day event where he asks the boys to wear a shirt with a collar – tie optional. Boys invite girls to eat with them, and girls invite boys. And they interact. There are also a picnic and a luncheon. So there are plenty of opportunities to hone their new skills.

Manners Matter is funded by Special Education Foundation through its Dana Brown Teacher Mini-grant Program.

Tom uses a PowerPoint presentation that he would share with others so they could duplicate his program. Contact him at