South Orangetown Central School District

South Orangetown Middle School Prevention Counselor Bobbie-Angela Wong has been pushing into seventh- and eighth-grade health classes to lead students in a “speed friending” activity. The goal? To build empathy by making time to learn about each other.

 “It’s easier to build empathy when you learn more about other people. Throughout the pandemic, people have been socializing less and that can have a big impact on your mental health,” Wong explained. “I want you all to learn how to socialize and communicate because you will need these skills in the long run.” 

Wong offered instructions on basic etiquette rules for engaging in conversation and active listening–and tips for improving communication skills in general. Students were given three minutes for each two-person conversation before rotating to the next classmate. Although a list of suggested questions was provided, most chose to come up with their own on topics including family, likes, dislikes and interests. 

“I really enjoyed this activity. I liked that I could talk to people that I usually wouldn’t. I think that I may have made some new friends,” noted eighth-grader Natalie L.

“I wanted to do this activity during Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week and Mental Health Awareness Month because, since the start of the pandemic, many of our students have felt isolated and disconnected because they’re doing so much through screens. This has translated to lost social skills and struggles with having face-to-face conversation. It’s great to see them smile and connect in person. I’ve seen a few high-fives…and while that may seem like a small thing, it may feel much bigger to the person on the other side,” said Wong.

Speed Friending Lesson