“It is raining still…Maybe it is not one of those showers that is here one minute and gone the next, as I had boldly assumed. Maybe none of them are. After all, life in itself is a chain of rainy days. But there are times when not all of us have umbrellas to walk under. Those are the times when we need people who are willing to lend their umbrellas to a wet stranger on a rainy day. I think I’ll go for a walk with my umbrella.”
Lili Smith, born with a cranial facial syndrome, was socially isolated by her peers during the middle school years. Lili died at the age of 15 from complications of her condition. After her death, a group of teens connected together to bring a change at their schools. They did not want anyone to ever feel left out again. The parents of Lili founded a project called Beyond Differences to carry a simple message to cities across the nation: For all kids to feel included and valued.
Beyond Differences is encouraging schools to hold a National No one Eats Alone Day on February 13, 2015. If you are interested in the program, complete a form on the website and they will send you information on how to get started. A few parts of this program stood out to me. First, the kids are in charge. (A teacher/counselor has to supervise and coordinate.) Second, schools can add their own “uniqueness” to the program.
I found lunch and recess to be insightful as a school counselor. Eating lunch with different classes in the cafeteria proved to be helpful. It was easy to observe the students that were socially isolated. One particular afternoon, I noticed a student sitting alone. This girl was usually a social student, but that day appeared withdrawn and sad. I was dealing with a few incidents that needed my immediate attention. I did not have the opportunity to meet with her. Already having a rapport with her mother, I made a phone call to the mom at the end of the day. I thought it was important for the mom to ask her daughter if anything was going on at school. The next day, I received a call thanking me. The girl was experiencing online bullying and the content was extremely inappropriate. The mom was not sure if her daughter would have told her. Her mom was supportive and open to listening. She gave her daughter the opportunity to discuss her feelings.
I discussed attending a life changing conference in a previous post. A psychologist for the FBI gave a presentation on school violence. The report included an analysis of 13 shooting incidents that occurred in United States’ middle and high schools during a 7 year period. In the article, the authors present a hypothetical behavioral profile of the “Classroom Avenger.”
A few of the statistics stood out to me. 100% of the classroom avengers’ felt like a social outcast, 80% felt teased and victimized, 60% were suicidal, 67% used a gun from home, and 87% felt chronic anger. The profile concluded that the typical avenger was not extremely violent in school or involved with the police. The shooters reported that the teasing and the feeling of isolation went back to elementary school!
As a school counselor in an elementary school, this information was essential. We have to reach these students at a young age and be proactive! The FBI psychologist gave a recommendation:
* Reach out to the socially isolated students. A few of the shooters mentioned that even teachers never said “hello” in the hallway. He recommended developing a program where a staff member would be assigned to a particular isolated student. The staff member would reach out to the student once a week. It could be as simple as having a conversation. The school counselor could be the coordinator for this program.
*A Recess Buddy Bench: My daughter’s school has a bench that was made for a student to sit on when he/she does not have anyone to play with at recess. The idea is that another student will then ask that child to play. My daughter has observed the bench being used. I love this idea!
* New Student Lunches: Entering a new school can be scary and isolating for a child. During the middle of September, the school counselor will invite the new students for lunch according to grade level. I included these lunches into my counseling program, then sent home a letter explaining the purpose of the lunches and my role as a school counselor. After the lunches were conducted, I displayed their pictures in the main hallway for everyone to see. It also helps to have a new student paired up with a child in the class for lunch/recess during the first week.
*Talk to your own children about social isolation. Ask your child, “What will you do if someone is playing at recess alone? What will you do if someone asks to play in your group, but your friend says no?”
*Even if you don’t work in a school, reach out to someone who may be socially isolated. Maybe it is an individual at your workplace. Maybe a neighbor dealing with a loss. Send a “thinking of you” card. Just saying “hello” could make a difference to them. Be that person who offers an umbrella on a rainy day.
Make a difference!