DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. — Navigating your way through the school lunchroom shouldn't be hard, but for so many kids it's downright painful.
"It's hard when you're the new kid," Tess Lerette said of her first few days at Lester Elementary School. "You have to start all over and make a new batch of friends."
These days lunchtime is easier to swallow at Lester. In fact, no one sits alone, ever since they implemented the "Mix it Up Lunch Day." Before heading to the cafeteria, each student draws a number designating a specific lunch table.
The lottery system ensures the kids sit next to someone new every day. Weaving her way around the sticky fingers and milk cartons, Lucy Quinlan encourages kids to open up as one of the program's kid ambassadors .
"I like that kids are meeting each other and they're gonna meet new friends so they're not sitting alone at lunch," Quinlan said.
The idea is a simple one but-game changing for these kids. Between bites, they have learned how a simple hello can change someone's whole day.
John Fontanetta heads the program through Our American Voices, a civic rights organization working to teach kids to make positive changes in their world.
"We have seen tremendous interest in schools wanting to be part of the program", says Fontanetta, "We're already in 26 schools across the state."
These days, Tess is surrounded by a group of lunch buddies she now calls friends.