The high school lunch hour can be a relaxing time for kids to catch up with friends and take a break from academic pressures. But for students who may be shy or new to the school, lunch time is often stressful and isolating. However, thanks to a group of high schoolers at Boca High School in Boca Raton, Florida, no one has to worry anymore that they may be alone at lunch.
Denis Estimon, a Boca High senior who emigrated from Haiti in the first grade, is the founder of We Dine Together, a club that reaches out to fellow students during lunch to ensure that no one sits alone. He says having been the new kid before, he knows all too well how it feels to be excluded. And he doesn’t want any other kid to have to feel that way.
Denis tells Babble that upon moving the the U.S., he was very lonely. “There was a language barrier and then after school my mom was working and my dad was still in Haiti,” he explains. “It was a hard time.”
Yet the high schooler, who by all accounts seems very mature for his age, adds that his home situation “wasn’t that bad” — unlike that of many of his peers. “Imagine kids who come from a lot worse,” he notes. “Imagine what they are going through.”
Since launching, We Dine Together has had a tremendous impact on Boca High students, and through it, some unlikely friendships have formed. One student named Jean Max Meradieu quit the football team so he could spend more time with the club. Another member, named Allie, says she moved from a school where she had a lot of friends, and upon coming to Boca High, knew no one. With no one to sit next to, Allie notes that lunch can be the most excruciating part of the day. But because of Denis’s club, that’s no longer the case for her — or any other student at her school.
When asked what sparked the creation of We Dine Together, Estimon tells Babble that the idea was born at a leadership conference he attended. He was describing the environment at his high school and said that “from a birds-eye view, you’d see segregation at lunch. All the free and reduced lunch kids are in one area. And all the wealthier kids are in another.” He also added that kids of different races and ethnicities rarely hung out together. “So I decided to try to change that,” Estimon says.
And he sure did.
Although Denis will graduate this spring, he plans to continue the success and growth of We Dine Together. He tells Babble that the club is planning a leadership summit this summer and is inviting high schoolers from all over the country to participate.
“We will discuss the history of We Dine Together, talk about leadership, and teach kids how to bring the concept back to their schools,” he says.
Most impressively, Denis realizes the need to recruit kids from schools who need We Dine Together the most. He tells Babble that the leadership summit will target schools with high suicide rates, for example. And it will build upon the founding concept of the club, says Denis — “from acceptance to breaking social barriers of isolation to building long lasting relationships over the table.”
Maybe with more students like Denis in schools across the country, kids really will believe that they matter, and that they too can be leaders and agents for change.