Students at a Springfield school learned about social isolation and the importance of being open to including others during a program Friday.
Snyder Park Elementary School participated in “No One Eats Alone Day,” a nationwide program which promotes inclusivity at schools.
The program is organized by Beyond Differences, a national nonprofit which believes “every student should feel accepted, included, and valued by their peers,” according to its website.
Beyond Differences works with middle and high school students in person and online to promote inclusivity on campuses. Schools in all 50 U.S. states participate in the program.
Christopher Robinson, school counselor at Snyder Park Elementary said the transition from sixth to seventh grade tends to be difficult for students.
“When they are excluded or feel like they are bullied, they tend to have more anxiety, mental health issues, feelings of suicide, (and) depression,” Robinson said. “Fitting in in middle school is very difficult.”
During lunchtime, students were encouraged to introduce themselves to people they normally do not sit with. They were also invited to pledge to prevent social isolation by signing a banner brought by Buckeye Health Plan.
Sixth grader Brianna Midkiff, 11, said she has witnessed bullying at her school.
“I hate it. It’s discriminating, and I just don’t see any reason for it,” she said.
“It’s important that we stop bullying and that we sit by others that maybe don’t have as many friends.”
Willow Salyers, 11, said she hopes the program encourages students to be more inclusive.
“I hope they start treating each other equally,” she said. “Even if somebody doesn’t look or act the same doesn’t mean they need to be treated differently.”
Representatives from Buckeye Health Plan showed sixth grade students a Beyond Differences-produced video which illustrated the impact of social isolation on adolescents.
“This (program) just aligns with Buckeye’s vision to transform the health of our community one person at a time,” said Jessica Wolff, community health service representative with Buckeye Health Plan.
Social isolation can affect students’ attendance and academic performance and cause depression and anxiety, Wolff said. She said she hopes the program teaches students to be inclusive and prevent bullying.
“These students are about to go off to middle school,” Wolff said. “They’re going to meet so many other kids. It’s about learning to include people and not leave people left out — that leads to anxiety, and that’s not a good feeling for any child to have.”