LINKS
2018-02-14 / News

For lunch last week, schools encourage socializing

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


In observance of No One Eats Alone Day last Thursday, students at Providence Middle were assigned random tables and engaged in "icebreaker" games to encourage socializing with new people. 
ASH DANIEL In observance of No One Eats Alone Day last Thursday, students at Providence Middle were assigned random tables and engaged in "icebreaker" games to encourage socializing with new people. ASH DANIEL For students at Providence Middle School, last Thursday’s lunch period offered a unique experience: teachers and administrators asking them to talk more – not less.

Instead of their usual table assignments, each student received a raffle ticket bearing the number of a specific lunch table. At each table there were “icebreaker” games, such as tic-tac-toe, and other activities designed to stimulate social interaction.

“In an effort to promote kindness and build a sense of community, you’re sitting with a different group of people today,” said Associate Principal Michael-Jon Rodney, who served as public-address announcer for the school’s inaugural observance of No One Eats Alone Day.

“We want you to engage with them. Have fun and meet some new people. That’s your goal for the day – kindness.”

Seventh-graders in the Providence Leadership Academy program organized and facilitated the event, one of thousands held across the country last week. A student-led nonprofit, Beyond Differences, created No One Eats Alone Day in 2012 as part of its efforts to create a culture of inclusivity in America’s middle schools.

Beyond Differences was founded by the parents of Lili Smith, who was born with a craniofacial syndrome and was socially isolated in middle school before dying unexpectedly from medical complications at age 15.

Social isolation can be an issue even at schools like Providence Middle, which has one of Chesterfield’s most diverse student populations.

“The reason we’re involved is things have gotten worse,” said James Canty, a seventh-grader in the leadership program. “One day we’re going to be adults. It’s up to our generation to make it better for everyone.”

Maddie Klaman, a seventh-grade social studies teacher and director of the PLA program, said her leadership students identified “clique behavior” as a problem they wanted to address during the 2017-18 school year.

Rodney found information online about No One Eats Alone Day and forwarded it to Klaman, whose 68 PLA students spent the past two weeks planning out every facet of the event. They also served as ambassadors, sitting at each lunch table and helping to facilitate interaction between classmates who might never have spoken to one another.

“If you can help people become friends, then their friends become friends … it just grows from there,” said Kingston Kenney, a Providence Middle leadership student.

Another PLA member, Gavin Keane, noted the problem of lunchtime isolation can be more prevalent for sixth-graders, since they are new to the school and haven’t had as much time as their older peers to make friends.

“I told [the student ambassadors] their expectations had to be different for each grade level,” Klaman said. “The seventh and eighth-graders probably won’t want to listen to you. That’s OK. Just keep modeling.”

Klaman is confident No One Eats Alone Day will become an annual event at Providence Middle.

“We’re not asking students to be best friends with everyone,” she added. “Just be kind and civil to each other.” ¦

Return to top