Let's face it. Lunchtime can be lonely for some kids. "If I sit alone, I'm going to feel all sad 'cause I don't have no one to sit with," student Fernando Orellana says. That feeling of not fitting in can be stressful. "They go with other people and I just stay alone with my other friends, and then I feel different," Carlos Rodas says admitting that it "kind of" hurts. "I feel angry at them," another boy told ABC7 News.
But those things don't happen anymore to students at participating schools where now, white and orange wristbands symbolize inclusion.
The idea was started by Laura Talmus. She created an organization called "Beyond Differences." Her late daughter Lili had Apert Syndrome and Talmus says it affected the way her classmates treated her. "I tease them and say it's like Occupy middle school. I want you to go back to your school and do the most positive thing you can think of doing, but change the culture," she says.
The No One Eats Alone initiative has several trained team leaders monitoring the lunch hour. "To make sure that everyone is involved and that no one's eating alone or feeling socially isolated," explained Maggie Davis, a member of the teen leadership committee. Excluding someone is a type of bullying and studies have shown that this type of isolation has a significant impact on kids, way beyond the lunch room.
When students engage with others, educators say it changes how they interact in class. "We see a decrease in behavior problems. We see them more engaged. We see them sharing. We see their inner social skills improving," Assistant Principal Ruth Bissell said.
The goal is to have all middle and high schools in Marin County on board by the end of the school year.