On the morning of her husband’s birthday, school teacher Sophie Whitehouse checked her email. What she read would change her life – and the life of thousands of children.
“I got an email from a Year 11 student, telling me how distressed they were about school, ” Sophie explains.
“Right then, I knew I had to do something.”
Deciding that “this has got to stop,” Sophie immediately took action.
“I was literally in bed and I decided to order 500 wristbands,” the mother of two recalls.
The wristbands were to be part of a campaign to help prevent the intense loneliness that many primary school children experience. Sophie named the campaign, “You Can Sit With Me“.
The concept is simple. The wristbands are worn by “ambassadors”, identifying them as available for any child to approach them for company.
“The child will be welcome, no questions asked,” Sophie explains. Any child, no matter their age, race, or gender, will be included.
The idea works both ways, as wristband-wearers also assume the task of identifying solitary kids and offering friendship; which is why Sophie sees the campaign as one of inclusivity.
“The point of the campaign is to teach kids tolerance and kindness, but also resilience. The bright yellow band is a clear sign to a lonely child that they won’t be rejected if they ask that child for company – so it helps that child build its confidence.”
The bands aren’t distributed to all children – only those who can demonstrate their willingness to be open and kind to everyone.
“We don’t want the bands to be a fad. They need to mean something in the message they send.”
Since its creation in 2015, the campaign has been introduced into more than 750 Australian schools in every state, and also in the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United States – which also happen to be places where Sophie taught in her more than 20 years of teaching.
“Wherever I taught in the world, I noticed the same thing,” Sophie says. “We have made huge technological advances, but no matter how much we progress, we still have the problem of isolation in the playground.”
To some extent, Sophie believes that social media has a role to play in that, because in her experience, she’s found that it makes kids more shy. The campaign offers a safe way for children to begin interactions, and hopefully, build friendships.
It’s important to note that the not-for-profit program distributes 100 percent of its funds to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.
Since its inception, a number of high profile media identities such as Manu Feildel, Jessica Rowe, and Peter Overton, have become advocates of the cause.
Sophie is grateful for the support the campaign has received, because addressing school yard loneliness is something she sees as the most pressing issue facing children today. The program has now teamed with R U Ok Day, with a focus on teaching primary school kids the skills they need to help themselves, and each other.
“It’s been so satisfying to know that we’ve made such a difference in so many children’s lives”, Sophie says.
June 1st national You Can Sit With Me Day. For more information see www.facebook.com/YOUCANSITWITHME