The newest fashion trend at Windy Ridge is a shirt that reads #YouCanSitWithMe, and it is the brainchild of two eighth-graders who wanted to ensure everyone at lunch would have someone to sit with.
| 11:30 a.m. March 28, 2017
SOUTHWEST ORANGE – Some adults still can recall the mental unease of having to decide where to sit during their school’s lunch time all too well.
At a young age where social anxiety often got the best of us, the sound of the dreaded lunch bell was the equivalent of hearing war drums — invoking a nervous fear that, during that life stage, had few equals.
However, middle-school students at Windy Ridge K-8 School may never again need to experience such fear thanks to two eighth-graders who together launched an initiative to create T-Shirts that read, “#YouCanSitWithMe,” inviting students to eat at their lunch table.
It all started when Mae-Elizabeth Vuncannon and Danielle Dupuis noticed some students who routinely sat alone during lunch time. They invited them to sit at their table, and before they knew it, their table of five became a table of 12. They soon came up with the idea to create shirts.
“We gave the shirts out to some of our friends who come sit with us at lunch,” Vuncannon said. “And what we did is they started wearing them around … and so then people started seeing them and asked, ‘What is this’ and, ‘What can we do to help?’ And then we just had more people come sit with us.”
When Principal Tracy Webley heard about the girls’ shirts and mission, she liked the idea so much that she offered to let the girls create new designs and purchase shirts for the whole middle school.
The 300 shirts, which finally arrived in January, now have became a popular clothing choice for the students — an observation that has Dupuis and Vuncannon beaming with pride.
“I think it really helps them interact with each other and give them a way to interact,” said Kerri Van Sickle, a school counselor at Windy Ridge. “At that age, they’re really concerned about what everybody thinks, and they’re not going to jump out there and take those risks. And our hope, too, is that it helps kids reach across all kinds of lines, whether it’s socioeconomic, race, you know, different religions — that kind of thing.”
Vuncannon could relate to what the students sitting alone might have felt, because she remembered times when she would enter a new classroom where she didn’t know anyone and would wonder where to sit. Dupuis also sympathized with the students she saw sitting alone after having a similar experience in sixth grade.
“In sixth grade, I didn’t really have a group with my closest friends until halfway through the year,” Dupuis said. “I guess I didn’t technically sit alone, but I didn’t really know anybody at the table. And it kind of felt like I was sitting alone because I never really talked, but then they invited me over and we became really good friends.”
The girls’ T-shirt idea is similar to the school’s Mix-It-Up Wednesday program, which encourages students to sit with people they normally don’t sit with by having everyone sit at tables according to the color tee they wear.
The goal, Van Sickle explained, is to create an inclusive environment, break down social barriers and allow the kids to get to know each other, despite never sharing the same class.
“We didn’t even think these shirts we’re going to be made, let alone this whole thing,” said Vuncannon. “It’s pretty amazing to think that we were part of all this. It’s kind of like leaving our own little legacy.”