By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBS11) – It was a greeting that me speechless.

As I walked into Marissa Fossile’s class at McNair Elementary in Dallas, I was immediately met by 10-year-old Detory Colbert, Jr. He extended his hand, shook mine, and welcomed me to the class! It was a delightful indication that the gathering was something special. Detory confirmed that my reaction was not unique.

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McNair Elementary handshakes (CBS11)

“Surprised… and sometimes excited,” said Detory, when I asked how adults typically respond to his mature and composed greeting. And then with a laugh, told me that the praise that usually follows makes him feel “Like a bubbly soda, I guess…[it] makes me happy.”

As urban schools work to level the academic playing field, attention is now turning to what’s being called the tie-breakers that technology can’t teach, like communication and confidence.

“Who can tell me the three main components of an appropriate greeting?” asks Fossile, whose inquiry is immediately met with raised hands. Fossile teaches math and science; but, she’s also the campus’ Amazing Shake’ coach. School leaders say students are getting a big boost in confidence, along with the communication skills.

“Being able to make eye contact even with people they don’t know, and then being able eliminate the slang that we all use and speak appropriately has been awesome,” says McNair Principal Ariss Rider.

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Of course, some slang is allowed– the class has it’s own fun way to convey support and applause. For example: a good answer is often rewarded with “two claps, a snap and a dap” or perhaps a “roller coaster and a stomp.”

District leaders say the students have fun while learning critical lessons.

“In our universe today, we have people who talk and text on their phone, it’s important to talk in actual conversation with one another,” says 5th grade student Rhyanna Burks.

“One of the things that we can no longer assume is that everybody’s taught the same thing at home,” says Billy Snow, DISD’s Chief of Transformation and Innovation. Snow says it’s his job to look for unique ways to bring access and equity to district students, while acknowledging that not all students need the same things. When he began looking for ways to make learning social skills fun, he turned to the national ‘Amazing Shake’ competition created by education innovator Ron Clark. And Snow insists that a firm handshake is just the beginning.

“They will go on to work the room of business and community leaders, they’ll go on to have a debate, and go on to that etiquette competition…it’s way more than just a first handshake: it’s about life!”

The first round competition between DISD campuses is on Friday. And Rhyanna has no trouble communicating that she wants to win.

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“Yes ma’am,” she conceded with a rush of laughter. “So badly!”