According to DoSomething.org, over 3.2 million students are bullied each year. Despite this fact, “1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4% of the time,” reports the anti-bullying website. With a lack of adult intervention, students are left to fend for themselves.
Mealtime, in particular, has been a source of anxiety for young people for as long as there have been school cafeterias. From elementary school through college, dining halls are gathering places for large groups of students.
School social hierarchy is often established over lunch and inclusion or exclusion can influence a lifetime of how individuals self-identify. For decades, it has seemed like bullies have been the decision-makers when it comes to whether or not people are included in groups, but now, thanks to a new app, students are taking the power back from the bullies.
“Sit With Us.”
“Sit With Us” is a new social media tool to help bullied students find a community to join at lunch. This innovation “was inspired by a miserable experience of being bullied in middle school,” writes the app founder and developer, Natalie Hampton.
“Apart from the verbal taunts and violence, one of the worst things was having to eat lunch alone, and the embarrassment of having others see me eating lunch alone. After I changed schools, whenever I saw someone eating lunch alone, I would always invite the person to join the group. Each time, the person’s face would light up, and the look of relief would wash over the person’s face. Some of those people have become some of my closest friends.”
“The first step to a warmer, more inclusive community can begin with LUNCH!”
Natalie is now a junior in high school in Sherman Oaks, California. The Southern Californian envisions schools where “everyone feels welcome and included,” and hopes that her app makes it so “that other kids don’t suffer” the way she did in junior high.
The young digital developer sees her app as a modest step to help change the dynamics of school communities for the better. By bringing outgoing and altruistic students together with those who are new to a school, who might have just gotten dumped and be looking for new friends, or even someone who’s just shy, she hopes to facilitate more inclusive and caring communities.
The app creator was interviewed by NPR’s Audie Cornish who asked why it was necessary to develop an app to help bullied students to find a place to eat. Natalie explained that during her miserable experience in seventh grade that she “tried many times to reach out to someone,” but was routinely rejected.
“You feel like you’re labeling yourself as an outcast when you ask to join a table with someone you don’t know. This way it’s very private. It’s through the phone. No one else has to know. And you know that you’re not going to be rejected once you get to the table.”
“Nobody has to eat lunch alone.”
The app works by empowering students “who are happy and willing to invite anyone to join the lunch table” to become “Ambassadors” in their respective schools. Ambassadors take a pledge to make sure that people who join their table “feel welcome and included in the conversation.”
Once sworn-in, Ambassadors can create lunch events or help out with others. Part of the pledge makes sure that school Ambassadors check-in with one another to make sure that the program is working out and to discuss ways to make “Sit With Us” better.
Not all users are official Ambassador, of course, students can simply use the app to browse events and make new friends and connections. Once connections are made, the app can be used to chat with friends and share plans, like determining where to sit.
“Together we can make a difference.”
Natalie Hampton hopes that schools across the country charter official “Sit With Us” programs, complete with club meetings, officers, and faculty advisors. Perhaps more teachers will stand up to bullies when they notice students standing up for one another. Kudos to you, young Miss Hampton. Hopefully your vision for more inclusive communities and schools comes true with your innovation!