Eating alone at school: How four students began mission to end isolation

By Caitlin R McGlade for The Sun Sentinel

The concrete courtyard at Boca Raton Community High stretches the length of a football field. When the bell rings for lunch, a flurry of students pack it from every direction.

Almost 3,400 students go to school here. Students say the place is so populated they can go years without seeing the same student twice.

It’s easy to go unnoticed. And intimidating if you’re new, struggle with self-esteem or the English language.

“Coming here, not knowing anyone, took a toll on my confidence. I became socially awkward. I sat by myself,” said Allie Sealy, a 16-year-old junior.

Sealy’s family moved from Broward County her freshman year so she could go to Boca Raton High. Two years later, she and three other students started a group so that no one else would have to eat alone.

They call it “We Dine Together” and it’s built on the idea that all good relationships start around a table.

They gather on Tuesdays to eat pizza, share poetry, talk politics, play games and plan community service hours. More than 60 students have joined since the beginning of the school year. Some used to eat alone with no one to call a friend. Others were outgoing and wanted to join the mission.

When they’re not meeting, they’re out in the school’s busy courtyard searching for students who are by themselves.

“No kid should eat alone,” said Denis Estimon, one of the club’s leaders. “There are so many problems in this world and the only thing that can solve it is relationships.”

Estimon and his teacher Jordan Hernandez said the need for the club has gotten greater after the election. Social cliques have turned even more inward, and some immigrant students now hear from others that they should get deported or go home, Estimon said.

Studies show the harmfulness of isolation in adolescence and early adulthood.

During adolescence, kids form a sense of identity based on the social networks they share with their peers as they distance themselves from their parents, said Robin Vallacher, a Florida Atlantic University psychology professor.

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