BOE Celebrates Newtown High School’s Sit With Us Program
The Board of Education celebrated Newtown High School’s new Sit With Us program, which is designed to partner students with new lunch mates, at its meeting on October 16.
The program started near the beginning of the school year. NHS parent and Hawley Elementary School kindergarten teacher Deborah Lubin Pond and NHS psychologist Dr Jennifer Hoag are the program’s advisors, and both were present at the meeting, along with student representatives Audrey Benson, Emma Stierle, Riley Burns, Olivia Deschenes, and Rohan Mansukhani.
The school board regularly holds a celebration of excellence at its meetings to highlight district programs, students, or educators.
The NHS Sit With Us program was inspired by and uses a Sit With Us app, available on Apple and Android devices. “Sit With Us,” the app’s description reads, “is a social networking app designed to promote kindness and inclusion in schools. Kids can use the app’s features to coordinate lunches with their friends. They can also volunteer to be the ambassadors for their schools and post open lunch events on campus, where everyone will be included. No one needs to eat alone.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue explained the program was started “to make available the opportunity for all students to enjoy lunch with friendly and caring students who welcome them to their table.”
According to the description for the app, it was created by a teenage girl who was a victim of severe bullying. “It was terrible having to eat lunch alone every day,” the description reads.
“Our Sit With Us program has launched and is currently well underway,” Ms Pond said at the meeting. She added later, “Sit With Us is a wonderful initiative to help build feelings of community, friendship, and belonging among our students.”
Students at NHS can use the app to connect with Sit With Us student volunteers called Kindness Ambassadors. For students who choose not to use the app or who have no way to use the app, the Kindness Ambassadors can also be identified by pins on their backpacks. Students volunteering in the Sit With Us program at NHS are all students in the HAWKS (Have respect, Act responsibly, Work with honesty and integrity, Keep high expectations, and Support the community) Honor Association. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors at the school can also fill out applications to apply to be Kindness Ambassadors.
Ms Pond also announced she is working with Newtown Middle School educators to bring the program there.
“That’s very exciting for our town,” Ms Pond said of the program’s expansion.
Rohan, who is the HAWKS Honor Association President, said high school students face many challenges daily.
“Right in the middle of our busy day, we are given this time that is supposed to be a small break from our day, where we can relax and enjoy our lunch,” Rohan said. “However, this time can actually be a time that causes stress on most students.”
He asked the board members and public present to imagine walking into an energy filled lunch room where cliques can be quickly identified.
“What if you don’t fit in any of these groups? What if you don’t have enough confidence to sit with them? Then what?” Rohan continued. “Now you are forced to sit alone during a time that is supposed to be fun.”
The Kindness Ambassadors are a group of students that are welcoming and try to make students feel included, according to Rohan and other students who spoke at the meeting. All of the students spoke about how important it is to let other students know that they are there for them.
“I think what you do is just wonderful,” said Dr Rodrigue. “I want to thank you all.”
Dr Rodrigue and Board of Education Chair Michelle Embree Ku presented Ms Pond and Dr Hoag with certificates to mark the celebration.
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