To most students, lunchtime is much more than just an opportunity to grab a nutritious meal. The cafeteria is a place where students can socialize and develop interpersonal skills.
But for some students — those who have a hard time making friends or do not fit into the social structures that often make up a school — lunch can be a lonely and stressful time.
The El Paso Independent School District is joining the No One Eats Alone national movement to help all middle-school students feel included during lunchtime — and beyond the cafeteria, too.
The program kicked off with a No One Eats Alone Day that took place in EPISD on Feb. 12.
The national event was created by the non-profit organization Beyond Differences in efforts to end social isolation and create a culture in which kids feels included, valued and accepted by their peers.
“This event provided an opportunity to increase awareness and understanding an individual’s culture, identity, ethnicity, race, gender, and other aspects of diversity play in society,” said Manuel Castruita, EPISD Director of Guidance Services.
National No One Eats Alone Day also serves as an opportunity for EPISD counselors, as well as other faculty and staff, to reinforce existing policies at school.
“Counselors work with students on developing skill sets such as open-mindedness and willingness to learn about ourselves and others as a proactive way of embracing and modeling positive behaviors,” Castruita said.
Henderson Middle School Intervention Specialist Daniel Chavez uses the lunch period as a time to interact with students in a more relaxing environment.
“There’s a different type of interaction that happens at lunch that will allow a student to relate to things differently,” Chavez said. “We do notice some students switch groups or they start eating alone, so it is an opportunity for us to see how we can be a support for that student.”
If Chavez sees a student sitting alone he makes sure to sit and talk to them to serve as a role model for the other students.
“I like to stand at the door when everyone is coming in to lunch and say hello to everyone,” Chavez said. “When they see me sitting with someone who usually eats alone they start coming by and saying hello, getting to know the other student.”
Sixth grade student Armando Ortiz invited a fellow student to join his group when he saw him eating alone.
“It’s important to include other people,” Ortiz said. “He was sitting by himself, so I asked him, ‘Come here. Sit with our table.’ He was happy and came to eat with me and my friends.”