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We Dine Together seeks to minimize social isolation

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Art teacher Ashley Drissell goes through her folder of plans for We Dine. She based West's chapter of We Dine after a club in Florida.

Art teacher Ashley Drissell goes through her folder of plans for We Dine. She based West's chapter of We Dine after a club in Florida. "Their whole purpose was to combat social isolation. I thought that would be a really good thing for West High," Drissell said. "It’s taken off since then, but we want to keep building that momentum."

Sydney Kinzy

Sydney Kinzy

Art teacher Ashley Drissell goes through her folder of plans for We Dine. She based West's chapter of We Dine after a club in Florida. "Their whole purpose was to combat social isolation. I thought that would be a really good thing for West High," Drissell said. "It’s taken off since then, but we want to keep building that momentum."

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On Monday mornings, sleepy students drag themselves out of bed and into the classroom of art teacher Ashley Drissell with their stomachs growling. Drissell founded West’s branch of We Dine Together to forge friendships through food.

“The name can be a little misleading because We Dine Together sounds like a lunch club, but it is more of an opportunity for us as students and teachers to empower each other, and encourage others to reach out beyond their friend group,” Drissell said. “It is less of a lunch club and more of a way to encourage people to combat social isolation, which is most common, I think, at lunch time.”

Last year, Drissell read about the founding of We Dine Together. A group of Floridan high school students who met during lunch and invited students sitting alone. She decided to create a branch at West that would be held before school.

“I would love to see the climate of West really transform to be inclusive, supportive, empathetic and non-judgmental. I can really only speak from a teacher’s standpoint and my own experience in my time in high school. As a teacher, I feel I am supported and that this is a positive environment, but then again I am not eating in the lunchroom,” Drissell said.

Junior Klea Markollari jumped on Drissell’s idea, becoming the President of We Dine Together. Although she sees herself as an extrovert, Markollari has struggled with finding a place to sit.

“There’s been times where even though I have friends, they weren’t in my lunch. I want to make it less horrible walking into the lunchroom wondering where you are going to sit,” Markollari said. “For other people, if someone wants to sit with you and they aren’t a regular at your table, stop giving them the side-eye and don’t freak out on them.”

The club plans to create t-shirts for all their members, using the money given as a start-up grant. They also hope to use the money to provide food.

Ultimately, pushing ourselves to expand our friend groups and talking to people we haven’t talked to will make us realize we are all very much the same,” Drissell said. “We are different in celebrated ways, but we all are still human.”

— Ashley Drissel

“We thought about providing breakfast every Monday morning for anyone who comes. During the school day, we can’t purchase outside food, but we can purchase food from the cafeteria. That’s something we will make a decision on during the club,” Drissell said.

Another one of the main goals of the club, besides combating social isolation, is dismantling discrimination embedded in the school community.

“I think that reducing prejudice and bias really comes through having interpersonal relationships. If I never talked to someone with a different skin color than me, I would have some preconceived notions about who they are and how they are. Until you really sit down and talk and share a meal, it can be a really scary thing to broaden yourself,” Drissell said.

We Dine Together meets every Monday morning at 7 a.m., as well as after school the last Thursday of the month.

“Ultimately, pushing ourselves to expand our friend groups and talking to people we haven’t talked to will make us realize we are all very much the same,” Drissell said. “We are different in celebrated ways, but we all are still human.”

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We Dine Together seeks to minimize social isolation