Monday, February 17, 2020
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Lonely at lunch? This app might help.

The idea of students sitting alone during lunch has been stereotyped in movies and books to mean that they’re an outcast. One app tries to reduce how often a situation like that comes up in real life.

“At my old school, I tried many times to reach out to someone, but I was rejected on many times. And you feel like you’re labeling yourself as an outcast when you ask to join a table with someone you don’t know,” said Natalie Hampton in an interview with NPR a year ago, when she was a junior at a high school in Sherman Oaks, California.

She created an app called “Sit With Us” that was created for Apple devices but can now be found on the Google Play Store as well. The app allows students to designate themselves as an “ambassador” and post “open lunch” events for other students to join them at their table. Other students seeking companionship then meet at the ambassador’s table.

“This way it’s very private,” Ms Hampton said. “It’s through the phone. No one else has to know. And you know that you’re not going to be rejected once you get to the table.”

Most of the feedback has been very positive, with Common Sense Media giving the app 4 out of 5 stars, mostly for its very honorable intentions of “combating isolation and encouraging teens to make their schools an inclusive environment,” and despite a brief note about the app’s privacy policy. But the app has its detractors among students.

According to a student newspaper report from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, the app is in use at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville and is being encouraged by administrators at Whitman.

“While the idea behind the app is noble, the app itself isn’t an effective way to communicate with others, primarily because few students have downloaded it. Even if there are students that want to meet others to sit with during lunch, the lack of people using the app dissuades them from using it,” writes Jenny Lu in The Black and White.

That’s primarily because most students at the high school have known each other for a while, but the app also stigmatizes introverted students, Ms Lu contends. The app, she writes, “can cause feelings of embarrassment of sitting alone or make teens to feel like they are some sort of pet project. Sometimes students have work to do or don’t feel like talking with others. Other students have places to be other than the cafeteria.”

It’s her strong recommendation that students—new students or those in another situation that leaves them alone during times when they would rather be with friends—take advantage of other clubs at Whitman that might do a better job of bringing new friends together at the school. Plus, there are already programs at the school that can arrange for people to sit with new students and start down that road for friendship.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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