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Friday, February 15, 2019 National No One Eats Alone Day
An Initiative of Beyond Differences Sponsored by Centene Charitable Foundation

Marin schools initiative targets lunchtime social isolation

by Will Jason
Published by the Marin Independent Journal​, October 09, 2012

In an effort to reduce social isolation, bullying and other problems in schools, a Marin nonprofit and county school officials have launched a new initiative focused on a time of the day that can be especially difficult for some children — lunchtime.
​ The initiative, titled No One Eats Alone, was launched Tuesday by the Greenbrae-based group Beyond Differences and the Marin County Office of Education. Beyond Differences was founded by Ace Smith and Laura Talmus of Kentfield, well-known Democratic political operatives whose daughter, Lili Smith, was born with Apert syndrome, a genetic disease that left her with a malformed skull, face, feet and hands.

Lili Smith died Oct. 10, 2009, at age 15 of medical complications. ​ Lili's parents launched the organization in her memory, saying they wanted to help other children avoid the social isolation suffered by their daughter, who would often call during lunch to say how lonely she was.

"No one should have to come to school and feel the way our Lili did," Talmus said Tuesday at a press conference at San Rafael's Davidson Middle school. ​ Since it was founded several years ago, Beyond Differences has organized numerous assemblies at Marin schools and created leadership training programs for students. The new initiative relies on groups of student leaders who encourage peers to invite other children to eat with them.

In addition to Davidson, the initiative will take place at Hall Middle School in Larkspur, Kent Middle School in Kentfield and Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Rafael.

"We are looking forward to the day that this moves across Marin County, across California and finally, across the country to make sure no one eats alone," Marin County schools Superintendent Mary Jane Burke said Tuesday at the press conference. ​ After the press conference, a group of seventh-grade volunteers walked through the school's outdoor eating area, handing out fliers with suggested social icebreakers. The flier contained a list of questions beginning with "Would you rather ..." with choices such as "Watch TV or listen to music?" and "Be three inches taller or three inches shorter?" ​ "If you guys see someone alone you can just tell them to join your group," seventh-grader Rosa Dominguez told a group of sixth-graders seated at a picnic table.

Dominguez and other volunteers will hand out materials with different icebreakers, games and activities at lunchtime each day this week. ​ Leela Langlois, another seventh-grade volunteer, said the program will not only help students who are socially isolated but also those who reach out to them.

"It makes you feel guilty if you are not doing anything, so if you actually participate it makes you feel good about who you are," she said. ​ Ruth Bissell, an assistant principal at Davidson, said improving social relationships between students could help reduce the kind of ostracism that leads some children to become bullies or victims.

"We try to have kids be part of a group so they are not a target," Bissell said.

The initiative could also improve instruction by making students feel more comfortable working with one another and participating in class discussions, she said.

"It spills over into the classroom," she said.