Most valuable lesson at one Florida high school taught at lunch

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- When the lunch bell rings at Boca Raton Community High School in Boca Raton, Florida, 3,400 kids spill into the courtyard and split into their social groups.

But not everyone gets included. Here at Boca High and at schools across the country, someone always sits alone.

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Lunch time at Boca High

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“It’s not a good feeling, like you’re by yourself. And that’s something that I don’t want anybody to go through,” said Denis Estimon.

When he came here in first grade as a Haitian immigrant, he says he felt isolated, especially at lunch. 

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Denis Estimon

CBS News

Now he’s a senior. He’s popular. But he has not forgotten that first grade feeling.

“To me it’s like, if we don’t try to go make that change, who’s going to do it?” he said.

So with some friends, Denis started a club called We Dine Together.

Their mission is to go into the courtyard at lunchtime to make sure no one is starving for company. For new kids especially, the club is a godsend.

Since it started last fall, hundreds of friendships have formed, some very unlikely.

Jean Max Meradieu actually quit the football team, gave up all perks that come with it, just so he could spend more time with this club.

“I don’t mind not getting a football scholarship. This is what I really want to do,” Jean said.

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Jean Max Meradieu, right, gets to know a fellow student

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Just imagine how different your teenage years would have been if the coolest kids in school all of a sudden decided you mattered.

“We’ll get to know each other better,” Jean said to another student.

It obviously takes a lot of empathy to devote your lunch period to this. Either that, or firsthand experience.

“I went from a school where I always had friends -- to coming to where I had nobody,” said club member Allie Sealy.

Allie transferred to Boca High two years ago. She says with no one to sit next to, lunch can be the most excruciating part of the day.

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Members of We Dine Together work the courtyard

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“It just seems really unfair. It’s honestly an issue. Meeting someone who actually cares and listens to what you have to say, really makes a difference. And that can happen at lunch, that can happen at our club. It’s going to make a difference,” she said.

And not just here at Boca High. Denis and his team are now trying to open chapters of We Dine Together at schools across the country.

And maybe, when they’re done showing kids how to make outsiders feel accepted, they can teach us adults, too.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.