Photo and Story Courtesy of PVSchools
Empty tables during lunch can be pretty discouraging, especially for new students or those transitioning back to in-person learning. If you don’t know anyone, you’re unsure where to sit during lunch, and you may feel alone. Unfortunately, for some students, this feeling lasts all year long. Alex Kurz, a senior at Paradise Valley High School, found a solution to this challenging situation and developed the No Empty Table (NET) Club with the support and guidance of Jacqueline Clayton, counselor and instructional division leader, and Collette Jones, social-emotional learning specialist.
Alex speaks with students during lunch at Paradise Valley High School. By engaging with students sitting alone, Alex and NET Club members make them feel more included and supported. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also has some great benefits for both parties involved.
“Approaching someone new, a perfect stranger, can be difficult,” Alex says. “Overcoming this obstacle, we seek out, reach out, and send out words of encouragement to members of the student body who are physically, emotionally, or mentally distanced. We lead large-scale team-building games and activities, which foster group participation. Other times, a simple one-on-one conversation can make a substantial difference in a student’s day.”
Alex’s concept for NET Club originated before the pandemic and the club currently has 15 members. Alex anticipates this number to grow significantly by the start of the next school year. Through community outreach efforts, Alex met with student leaders from the other high schools in the district who have expressed interest in developing a NET branch at their schools. “We have dedicated members who conduct outreach opportunities, but all students are welcome to join in on the games and activities we coordinate,” he says.
Now that the NET Club has a strong foundation, Alex is confident that the club will continue to flourish after he graduates in May. “Since the formation of NET, broadening the scope of positive influence and impact NET has been a compelling step I wanted us to take. Before I leave a leadership role, I try to give future officers and members outlets to push the club in new directions. It was my privilege to found and, with help from club members, develop NET to its current state. But I am more excited to see who will take the club in an improved direction when I leave for college.”
While it’s not expected that a student starts their own club, Alex’s advice to others is, “Whether you are a student, parent, or staff member, I encourage you to do the unexpected. It pushes us to learn, to discover, and above all, to make progress.”
Alex is a senior and has held several positions, including, but not limited to, being a State Thespian Officer, student teacher for the Center for Research in Engineering, Science, and Technology (CREST) Program, and swim team captain.