Lunchtime on Feb. 12 could prove to be a much more pleasant experience than usual for hundreds of Dallas ISD’s middle schoolers. With the help of counselors, students at the district’s 37 middle schools are pledging to make their schools kinder, more caring places to learn by inviting everyone to the lunch table on No One Eats Alone Day.
A national, peer-led initiative sponsored by the nonprofit organization Beyond Differences, No One Eats Alone Day is aimed at ending social isolation in middle schools and creating a culture in which all kids feel included, valued and accepted by their peers.
A tall order for sure, but also one that inspired middle school students in 700 schools in 38 states to participate in 2015. No One Eats Alone Day is based on the simple act of peers inviting even the shy, unpopular kids to the table for lunch.
Stories are legion about how tough middle school can be for anyone who is the least bit different. Counseling Supervisor Sherri Vault explains that much of the drama can be blamed on adolescence.
“The students are awkward socially and emotionally. They sometimes feel insecure, especially the ones who are shy or introverted,” she said. “They’re trying to figure out who they are and their place in the world.” It’s the social instability of adolescence, she says, that makes it difficult for middle schoolers to connect with each other and reach out to students who are not in the popular crowd.
Counselor Rachel Stanphill says the problem of finding your place in the social structure of middle school is even more difficult for immigrant students who must overcome language and cultural barriers. In spite of the challenges, both counselors are optimistic that the student-led effort will inspire the kind of empathy that moves students to extend themselves to others.
Counseling Services is supporting the effort with a No One Eats Alone Toolkit with lessons and classroom activities, an essay and poster contest, posters, wristbands, balloons and announcements to help create a sense of excitement among students.