A California teenager has taken it upon herself to create a new app meant to help students find a place to sit at lunchtime in the school cafeteria.
Launched on September 9, the app, "Sit With Us," was created by 16-year-old Natalie Hampton from Sherman Oaks, California after she herself had been bullied in middle school and forced to eat by herself at lunchtime for her entire seventh grade year. Hampton said that during that time she felt vulnerable and was open to even more bullying.
"I felt like, with my story, it was my job to stand up and do something about all the kids who feel like this every day. And I wanted to create something that would address bullying, but in a positive way," Hampton said.
Through the free app, students can designate themselves as "ambassadors," allowing them to invite other students to join them for lunch. Ambassadors also have the capability to post "open lunch" events that give anyone looking for a place to sit at lunch the opportunity to sit with them and possibly make some new friends, writes Elyse Wanshel for The Huffington Post.
Students looking for a place to sit at lunch simply open the app and become matched with an ambassador.
Now a junior, Hampton attends a different school and has a full social life. However, she still remembers her time sitting alone and being bullied. She writes in the app's description that once she changed schools, she took it upon herself to always invite someone eating lunch alone to join her group. She said that many of those people have since become some of her closest friends, reports Brittney McNamara for Teen Vogue.
She told Audie Cornish on NPR's "All Things Considered" that she felt the app was necessary because it takes away the public rejection and the idea that some students are social outcasts.
"This way it's very private. It's through the phone. No one else has to know," she explained to Cornish. "And you know that you're not going to be rejected once you get to the table."
According to a study conducted by Princeton, Rutgers, and Yale, students who take a stand have a significant impact on bullying. This was found to be especially true for the "cool kids." Taking place over the 2012-13 school year, the study looked at more than 50 New Jersey middle schools which offered socially competent students the social media tools and encouragement necessary to combat bullying. Results show a 30% reduction in student conflict reports.
Hampton said that although the app launched just last week, she has already received positive feedback from her peers.
"So far, the results have been very, very positive. I had my first club meeting the other day, and everyone was very excited. And people are already posting open lunches at my school. So I'm very excited that things are already kicking off with a great start."