We Dine Together, a new club at Normal Community, aims to promote inclusion and offer a safe place for students during the school’s lunch hours. The club works to avoid the social grouping that occurs during high school lunch, leaving some students feeling marginalized. Instead, it offers a designated space for students to connect with others and create new friendships.
The club began because of Be Strong, a non-profit organization that promotes ending bullying. Be Strong tells the story of Denis Estimon who immigrated to the US from Haiti in first grade and as a result, at first, did not have any connections at school.
During high school, Estimon began We Dine Together at his own school because he never wanted any kid to feel isolated in the way that he once did. Estimon’s story was heard by Ms. Kaitlyn Baez, Ms. Lauren Chessare, and other NCHS teachers and inspired them to bring the club that Estimon started to NCHS.
The mission of the club is to “offer a place where students know that they can make friends and feel included,” Ms. Lauren Chessare, one of the teachers that oversee the club by opening her classroom during fifth-period lunch, said. “It is really important to continue to improve the student body and community here.”
We Dine Together is a place for any student to eat lunch, to talk, and to socialize. The club also offers additional social opportunities to students such as scavenger hunts during the lunch hours, random acts of kindness throughout the week, and a homecoming group for this year’s homecoming dance was organized by student leaders.
“We will do activities so the kids can go into the lunchroom, meet other kids, and raise awareness for the club,” Chessare said.
Administrative support for the 2018-2019 school year was provided to We Dine Together. The teacher sponsors are not scheduled a homeroom and are able to focus on these students and building relationships.
Student leaders of We dine together are chosen to connect with the kids who may sit alone at lunch, are new to the school, or are more introverted. While the teachers leave their classroom open and care for the students, the student leaders are the foundation of the club.
“The club has impacted me because I get to help kids that I didn’t know,” senior student leader, Jessica Fuentez said. “Although they come in, they eat, and they leave, there’s more to it, we help them.”
The club is still new to the school but throughout the last few weeks the club population has grown and more students have shown up during lunch hours.
This is not unique to NCHS, other schools around the US have incorporated the organization into their high schools. We Dine Together is a way to amplify inclusion at high schools and help the student body become more connected.
“Just talking to somebody that you haven’t talked to before or if you notice someone that doesn’t know a lot of people in a class,” Chessare said, “is a way to get people to reach out.”
Chessare believes this goes beyond We Dine Together: “Interact with people, start a conversation, give a compliment, all day; not just during lunch hours.”