In late August of 2016, a middle schooler named Bo was sitting alone at lunch when a visiting college football player, Travis Rudolph, walked up to him and asked to sit with him. Rudolph didn’t realize Bo had autism, nor did he know that Bo’s mom frequently worried whether he had any friends at school. Bo’s mom, upon hearing about what Rudolph did, shared the story to Facebook in a touching post, which quickly went viral.
The story was sweet, but what if it’d never needed to happen? That is, what if Bo had people to sit with at lunch and had never sat alone in the first place?
Sounds like a nice idea, doesn’t it? But a school where everyone gets included and no one is left to eat alone seems like a far-fetched fantasy in this day and age. We’re making progress and students are learning more about disabilities and inclusion, but there’s still work to do.
Created by 16-year-old Natalie Hampton — a teen who spent her entire seventh grade year eating lunch alone — “Sit With Us” capitalizes on the inherent kindness of students to reach out to their excluded peers.
Here’s how it works.
A student or group of students register themselves on the app as ambassadors. This designates them as a friendly group/person with whom anyone can feel free to sit. Think of it as a Child Watch or a Safe House program, but for peers.
Those who sign up as ambassadors then post “open lunch” events. An excluded student can then look at the app and sit at the ambassadors’ table.
This app is awesome for a number of reasons. It completely eliminates the possibility of rejection; the excluded student will not be turned away. That’s especially reassuring for a shy student or a person with communication difficulties — they don’t even need to ask permission; they can just sit! And even if the student is not rejected when they ask to sit with someone, simply asking can make them feel like a social outcast. This also eliminates that. “It’s very private,” Hampton says. “No one else has to know.”
“Sit With Us” is also a powerful tool against bullying. Hampton remembers that the isolation she experienced put her at risk of being bullied…and she often was. “Sit With Us” offers protection and insulation against it.
Overall, it’s a really cool idea that could do a lot of good…not just for people with autism, but for anyone who has ever felt alone in a crowd of peers. Which, I’d venture to guess, is many of us. I sure wish I’d had it when I was in school!