Adorning the wall in Mrs. Metcalf’s classroom is the expression, “You don’t have to be great to start something, but you have to start to be great”. The students in Mrs. Metcalf’s Fundamentals of Literature (FOL) class took the expression to heart when they were moved by an article that they read from the Washington Post about Natalie Hampton, a student at a private, all-girls school in Los Angeles, who spent most of her middle school years bullied, isolated and eating lunch alone. A student who once loved school, Hampton dreaded going due to the anxiety she felt, with the eventual need for hospitalization.
Hampton is now attending a new high school, and as a junior, she is in a much better place with a nice circle of friends and extracurricular activities in which she participates. Though happy now, Hampton has never forgotten the dark years as a middle schooler. She hated the idea of other students going through what she did, so she came up with a plan that would allow students a judgment-free way to find lunch mates without the fear of being rejected. Hampton developed an app called “Sit With Us,” where students can sign up as “ambassadors” and post that there are open seats at their lunch table. A student who doesn’t have a place to sit can look at the app and find an ambassador’s table and know they are invited to join it. When signing up as an ambassador, the student takes a pledge that they’ll be kind and welcoming to whoever comes to sit with them. Hampton found that even though focusing on the lunch room might seem like a small step, it helps a school to become more inclusive and starts to change the mindset of students.
With research backing her claims that it is more effective when students actively take a stand against bullying rather than teachers or administrators leading the charge, Hampton launched her app in an assembly in front of her entire school. In a short amount of time, Hampton’s app has gained national media attention as well as that of schools across the country.
After reading the article and answering questions using close reading and critical thinking skills, Metcalf’s FOL students wanted to take their learning one step further. Knowing that no school is exempt from some degree of bullying, 9th grader Michael thought this app could be beneficial at Spencer High School. “Kids are getting bullied about how they dress and how they look; they are being rejected. This app will help kids find a safe, positive place to eat lunch where they feel protected,” replied Michael. “The lunchroom is a big, scary place. Everyone wants to feel welcome; no one wants to feel left out,” added Samantha, a 10th grader.
With a desire to bring similar programming to Spencer Community Schools, the FOL students created a presentation that they shared with administration. Following the presentation, administrators and students brainstormed ways to incorporate the “Sit With Us” app and other similar strategies to help all students feel welcome. Questions were asked, including whether or not the app would have to be used, or could an ambassador program be launched without the app? Also considered was how to share the idea with the rest of the student body. Ideas such as having discussions with the student council and National Honor Society, as well as putting up posters and table tents were suggested. Assistant Principal, Jade Beehler encouraged the students to present at a student council meeting and said, “Getting to know each other can be huge, and this is a way of getting to know each other.”
Spencer High School Principal, Elli Wiemers remarked, “An app like “Sit With Us” would be helpful in any school lunchroom because it provides the reassurance that there will be someone waiting with a seat. Even adults experience that feeling of "all eyes are upon me" when entering a large room with no specific seat in mind; that's especially uncomfortable for kids. I love the compassion these kids show with this idea, and that they're proactive saying this would be helpful.” After starting, the FOL students appear to be on their way to something great.