Raige Hollis always liked the idea of talking to classmates. In fact, he says he's "friends with everybody."
So when his high school announced plans for a Mix It Up at Lunch Day, Hollis, captain of the football team and senior classman, was all in.
But some of his classmates at Laconia High School in New Hampshire were less excited about sitting down to lunch with folks who were not part of their usual circles.
"Some people were saying they were not going to come to lunch that day," Hollis said. But a week before the Mix Day, regular PA announcements started with music and an invitation for students to Mix It Up on Oct. 5. A banner went up publicizing the event.
Over two lunch periods on Oct. 5, Laconia students were given colored badges. Each person sat at a table with a corresponding colored tablecloth. Then they got to know students they had not mingled with before. There was music. Students talked about social justice issues.
It was a success, Hollis said. "And we had fun doing it. Students got themselves out there and started talking to new people. It's a step forward."
Laconia High School's Mix It Up was part of a district-wide initiative to build community and acceptance. It was an effort to get students to care for their school buildings and to show greater respect for peers, teachers, staff and even sports officials at games.
Mix It Up will become a monthly event at Laconia High School, said Holly Vieten, guidance counselor and department head. The event ties in nicely with the implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS). "We're looking for long-term community building that blankets any pocket where students are."
Eighth-grader Jocelyn Allain was part of the Mix It Up planning committee at Laconia Middle School. At first, she wondered how they would get kids talking. To get the conversation started, a teacher sat at every table. At her table was a close friend and a boy she had not spoken with before. As it turned out, Jocelyn and the young man share a passion for snow sports.
Their Mix-It-Up conversation carried over to a hallway discussion days later. "We just hung out with different people and had never talked," said Jocelyn, a National Junior Honor Society member.
Jim McCollum, the middle school's principal, said Mix It Up was an opportunity to build new skills and bring students together. "The minute you say ‘hi' and give your name, things change," he said. "Our world is changed. When you walk by this person now, it feels different. It makes your world safer."
The school is planning a monthly Mix It Up Day.
Even though Giuliana Kevlin, a eighth-grader, meets people easily, she understands that it can be "exciting and scary at the same time." The bottom line of Mix It Up is that "you're getting to meet new people and not judging them by who they sit with or who they talk to," she said.
And in those moments, the world can change for the better.
Williamson is associate editor at Teaching Tolerance.