Swanton Middle School students and staff spent the lunch period on Thursday working to create a more friendly and inclusive environment. Students participated in games, socializing, and character building exercises during No One Eats Alone Day.
“It’s tough for kids to escape negativity,” said Kevin Heintschel, a teacher and one of the coordinators of the event. “Many of our kids are learning their communication skills via social media.”
He said that is a scary place to shape values.
“In an ever connected social media world, our kids can and are being relentlessly bullied and isolated,” said Heintschel. “Schools can be a break from that, and should be a welcoming space. It’s our job to teach and emphasize care for each other, embrace differences, and aide development of positive self-images.”
No One Eats Alone Day seeks to reverse those negative trends.
“A teenager being isolated at lunch signals the beginning of many problems which have come to plague our schools, with the most shocking examples being bullying and violence,” said Laura Talmus, president of Beyond Differences, the organization that leads the No One Eats Alone initiative. “We want to reverse these frightening trends by asking students to engage in a simple act of kindness at lunch – making sure that no one is eating alone.
Assistant principal Leigh Pancoast said No One Eats Alone Day was a success.
Students were given a colored piece of paper that allowed them to sit at a table with that color balloon. When they got to their seats there were directions, including conversation starters, for No One Eats Alone Day.
“This allowed for students that do not necessarily know each other to start up a conversation and learn about their new classmates,” Pancoast said. “While they were eating lunch they had conversation and enjoyed learning more about the students around them.”
After students were finished eating they each got a purple cut out apple and wrote either a pledge of kindness or something new they learned from the other student at lunch and then hung the apple on a Kindness Apple Tree in the cafeteria.
“Overall, this was a wonderful event. I could see the excitement in students eyes and hear it in the cafeteria,” said Pancoast. “It usually takes a while to see results and know if what we are doing as a SMS Character Committee is working, but what I saw yesterday was immediate. One thing that really struck me was I saw teachers eating at the same table as their students and making pledges to our apple tree.”
She also saw a teacher sit alone at a table to observe and listen. Four students got up from their table and went to sit with him. “I knew right then, our students understand our purpose today. I was thrilled.”
Heintschel had coordinated a No One Eats Alone Day at a previous middle school and when an email came from Beyond Differences, he presented it to the character committee and counselor Bethany Lopez.
“We already have a similar event called Mix It Up Day, and this would be a second event this year focused on building our community values at SMS,” he added.
Swanton Middle School has prioritized creating a more positive school experience.
“This is being done through morning greeter, lunch bunch, SEED, and ALPHA programs, as well as an increased social media presence by staff,” Heintschel said. “Teaching kids positive choices and character traits, cultivating community pride, and deepening relationships with staff has created the Bulldog family atmosphere.”
District staff actively looks for kids doing good, recognize it, and share it out to the world. The building leadership team has visited some schools locally. Heintschel said that is inspiring some very creative ideas that could further change what Swanton Middle School’s culture will look like in the coming years.
Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010