A Cleveland school that prides itself on its diversity is participating in national program that teaches young people to be inclusive.
Aretmus Ward School is one of a handful in the state of Ohio to sign up for the mission. Anti-bullying messages and messages of support hang in the school’s hallways and classrooms.
“One of the things that I love about this school is that diversity,” said Principal Chris Myslenski. “It truly is representative of Cleveland.”
A video on the organization’s website includes a girl talking about some of the struggles students face.
“I know what it’s like to feel alone, left out- to not have any kids to talk to or sit with,” she says. “To feel like you don’t belong anywhere. No one sees you. No ones cares. You’re just invisible.”
The goal of Beyond Differences is to end social isolation.
“Far too often, we just sit by ourselves and that’s the status quo,” Myslenski said.
The lunch room is the launch pad for changing the dialogue. It’s a place school nurse Sherdina Williams admits can be terrifying for some.
“So it is very important that we give our students the messaging that it is unacceptable– that no one should eat alone… that everyone should be accepted, feel warm and feel welcome,” Williams said.
Tuesday’s presentation will include ice breaker games and other activities to encourage students to meet someone new and bring them into their circle. Myslenski hopes these student will model this behavior in the lunch room and elsewhere in life.
“It’s really just supporting the idea that in our school we’re a family, we’re a community and we need to break down those walls,” Myslenski said.
Beyond Differences said studies show social isolation can lead to increased academic issues, truancy and health issues like obesity and substance abuse.
Williams said the No One Eats Alone campaign falls in line with their school motto.
“So social-emotional learning and our social-emotional climate is a very big part of that,” Williams said.
Myslenski is looking forward to seeing his middle schoolers pass down what they learn to other students in the building.
“To start an initiative like this is going to open some doors for us,” Myslenski said.
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