First lady takes on isolation at West Bloomfield school

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

West Bloomfield Township — Bringing a message of inclusivity to a Michigan middle school on Monday, first lady Melania Trump encouraged students to make a new friend at lunch and work to end the social isolation felt by some kids at lunchtime.

Trump visited Orchard Lake Middle School, greeting elated students who jumped up out of their seats to take a selfie with the first lady who came to Michigan to kick off the “Week of Inclusion,” part of National Bullying Prevention Month.

The Oakland County school participates in “No One Eats Alone,” a program that seeks to reverse the trends of social isolation by asking students to engage in simple acts of kindness, such as making sure that no one is eating alone and students are making an effort to eat with new classmates and peers.

“I encourage you to find a new friend and eat lunch with them ... so nobody feels sad or stressed and everybody feels included,” Trump told the students. “I see tables only girls and tables only boys. Maybe you can get together and become friends. Agree?”

#NoOneEatsAlone is a campaign created by the student-led organization Beyond Differences. It’s active in schools in all 50 states.

Officials with the #NoOneEatsAlone campaign say social isolation is often the precondition to the bullying, teasing and violence in schools and communities. The idea is to prevent bullying and teasing instead of reacting to it.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was also part of Monday’s visit. Together Trump and DeVos visited a sixth grade classroom where both women met with students who are part of the Viking Huddle Class, a sixth-grade classroom that focuses on social emotional learning.

The lesson on Monday was about respecting others, kindness and inclusion. Students sorted cut-out words that were either inclusive or socially isolating. Their job was to pick which category the word fell into and glue it on a piece of paper.

The kids worked in groups of threes and fours sorting words like friended, group, isolated and excluded.

Trump stopped by one table to see what the children were doing. She spoke softly to students, encouraging them to be kind, compassionate and empathetic.

“I like what you are doing. It’s good. As you make new friends, to play in the group and not exclude anybody and say you can’t play with us. It’s very good. When you do a sport or have a lunch, it’s very important to have friends,” Trump said.

“You can achieve a lot. Just work hard,” she told students.

Student Bryce Hairston, 13, said Trump’s visit was an exciting opportunity for students to meet someone important in the world.

“I was overwhelmed when she first came out. I was like ‘Oh my gosh.’ Just to be in the same room with her is exciting. Everyone else is obviously excited, too,” he said.

Principal Morrison Borders said his school has run the program “No One Eats Alone” in the past and he believes the school was selected to be visited by Trump because of its participation.

“No matter your political affiliation, it is a great opportunity to meet the first lady,” Borders said.

Borders said the middle school runs multiple inclusive programs and social contracts are in place and posted classrooms walls. In classrooms where these programs are active, teachers report less behavioral problems, he said.

“Our school represents what America is about. We are culturally diverse. We are a minority majority building. We run the gamut of students who are very affluent and students who are not. This is the perfect place to come,” Borders said.

The 47-year-old first lady announced plans to combat cyberbullying during her husband’s campaign.

In September, Trump urged world leaders to come together for the good of their children, delivering her first public remarks at the United Nations.

Warning that children are closely watching their example, she told the spouses of world leaders that they “must teach each other the values of empathy and communication that are at the core of kindness, mindfulness, integrity and leadership.”

The day before her speech, President Donald Trump drew criticism after calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Rocket man” before the United Nations General Assembly. The U.S. president vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to defend the U.S. or its allies.