District to implement program to ensure ‘No One Eats Alone’

Most schools have a number of students who eat lunch by themselves. This week, Fairfield City Schools’ students and teachers will work to make sure that’s not the case.

“No One Eats Alone” will take place Feb. 9-13 at all of Fairfield’s school buildings. Each school will create different activities with the students to ensure that students spend time together without leaving anyone out.

Students tend to hang out with the same groups of peers most days, so on Friday at Fairfield Intermediate School, students will wear color-coded bracelets that places them with other students they may not know, said Carrie O’ Neal, one of the presidents of Intermediate’s parent-teacher association. This activity will take place both at lunch and at recess.

“Throughout the week in the morning, the principal is going to make announcements on different touch points on that day about meeting somebody new. On Wednesday, the kids will wear green in support of Sandy Hook and then during lunch, there will be a table set up where kids can come with a paper tablecloth and write positive messages about being kind and meeting somebody new,” said O’Neal.

After school on Thursday, a group of student leaders will place positive messages on every student’s locker, and the kids will see them when they arrive at school Friday morning. Intermediate has more than 1,000 students, said O’Neal.

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“It should be an impactful message when you see those hallways filled with all those kind thoughts,” said O’Neal.

Gracie Calla, a seventh-grader at Fairfield Middle School, liked the program when she heard about it.

“In middle school, you’re kind of in groups and you’re either with the group or you’re not. So I thought (the program) was a really good idea because you meet new people and make new friends,” she said.

Middle School Principal Lincoln Butts said he’ll extend the No One Eats Alone program beyond next week by periodically having the students sit with different groups than they usually do so the impact of the program doesn’t dissipate.

And the program impacts more than just the students, O’Neal said.

“Even as adults, no one likes to feel like they’re being left out. I think it’s great not only to focus on that for the week, but just as a reminder that we need to be kind to each other and we need to be inclusive,” she said.

The initiative was suggested by the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit group formed by parents who lost children in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings. Representatives of that group met with officials from various districts last month at the Fairfield Community Arts Center.

According to the program given to school officials, “No One Eats Alone” promotes social inclusion so that kids don’t become isolated and subject to bullying or violence.

“At every school and in every community, there are children who feel like they have no friends and quietly suffer through each day — especially at lunchtime and other moments where friends gather together … as a result, many further pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development and/or choose to hurt themselves or others,” the program reads.

It’s one of a number of Sandy Hook Promise programs designed to attack the root causes of violence or bullying and stop them before they start.

Bob Sutton, who helped bring Sandy Hook Promise to Fairfield, recalled learning about the school shooting and asking how it could happen and how it could be prevented. He heard Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the tragedy, speak at the Fairfield meeting.

“It was incredible to hear him speak about something so personal. Yet his message was very clear … to start looking into programs, tools, ideas that are research-based and that make sense in helping families, school systems, governmental agencies and health providers prevent such tragedies,” Sutton said.

No One Eats Alone was created by Beyond Differences, a California-based non-profit. The program, which is free, provides a toolkit that includes events, activities and actions educators can teach kids to learn the concept.

It’s especially important to communicate this message to families, Sutton said.

“Parents have huge capabilities … it means somebody’s got to speak up and say something to get the wheels of authority and intervention moving,” said Sutton.

Terri Calla, Gracie’s mother, said, “I think this is what every school in America needs right now. With most schools having such a cluster of children, I think across the board, everybody needs to be aware of the situation.”

Fairfield spokeswoman Gina Gentry-Fletcher said, “We opted for this initiative because it is one of the easiest to implement and engages everyone. Our hope is that students and staff will reach out to those who appear to be isolating themselves or feel invisible or lonely. This is a powerful lesson about compassion for others, improving social skills and doing what is right to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

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