United we stand, divided we fall.
This is the stance that Beyond Differences—a nationwide organization that empowers students to end social isolation—has taken with national ‘No One Eats Alone’ day. The daughter campaign is a student-led initiative that aims to put an end to lunch-time student isolation.
According to Beyond Differences’ National Program Director Jenny Karl, the dangers of social isolation extend beyond what meets the eye.
“Social isolation has been linked to serious health consequences such as cardiovascular disease, eating disorders, and substance abuse,” Karl said. “The organization zeroed in on lunch for this program, because it can be the longest hour of the day for students who feel alone and socially isolated at school.”
As part of Beyond Differences’ campaign to end social isolation, MHS Students Involving and Befriending Students have taken on the task of creating awareness for ‘No One Eats Alone’. SIBS sponsored activities at the Middle School in which students signed a pledge, were introduced to new people, and celebrated social inclusion.
Senior Lauren Grace, coordinator of the ‘No One Eats Alone Campaign’ at Mason, said the project is another step towards ensuring that students enjoy their school experience.
“My goal is just to get kids to start talking to each other and be a little more aware of the people around them,” Grace said. “It’s not even about completely ending social isolation, but just moving a couple steps forward in making sure that they enjoy school and aren’t feeling alone.”
February 11 may have marked ‘No One Eats Alone Day’, but according to high school psychologist Jeff Schlaeger, MHS students are constantly on the lookout for signs of social isolation.
“This is not just a one week movement,” Schlaeger said. “People still have their eyes out for kids in need. We may be this huge school, but we’re always looking out for each other.”
A recent study, led by researcher Kevin Kniffin of Cornell University, has shown that eating is such a basic human need that it can be extraordinarily meaningful. For this reason, results have proven a certain affinity between people sharing a meal.
Compared to that of a classroom, the environment of the lunchroom is also more ideal for students to relax and socialize, said Schlaeger.
“Lunch is where people let their guard down,” Schlaeger said. “It’s not as structured. In classrooms, more often than not, you’re forced to interact with who you’re next to. They may not necessarily be your friend.”
Karl said that encouraging students to eat together is a step forward in the campaign to end social isolation in schools.
“Eating lunch together is a way to build community,” Karl said. “At Beyond Differences, we hear students share that lunchtime can be the most difficult time of the day. We hope that at the end of lunch, someone will be one step closer to building a lasting friendship and we will be one step closer to ending social isolation.”