The Kyrene school district is one of the top performing districts in Arizona. We serve approximately 18,000 students in 19 elementary and six middle schools. The student population is quite diverse in background and academic needs.
We believe that everyone should be accepted regardless of height, size, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, abilities and any other trait that makes them special. We want our staff and students alike to actively take a role in being inclusive of everyone around them, embracing the differences that make us all unique, and finding the similarities that we all share as we walk through this life together.
To that end, last year the Kyrene human and civil rights committee launched two main initiatives – Mix It Up at Lunch Day and No Name-Calling Week.
Last year, more than half of our schools participated in Mix It Up. School staff commented that it was easier to do than they thought. Students asked for follow-up events including another Mix It Up lunch.
This year our committee wanted 100 percent participation. That meant every school. We got it!
Some of the cool ideas from our schools this year include:
- A kindergarten teacher switched with a fifth-grade teacher for an hour. They modeled for students that it is good to step our of their comfort zone and supported the idea that all teachers are responsible for all students.
- One middle school ordered plastic bracelets in various colors with “Mix It Up Day” printed on them. The tables had colored butcher paper matching the colors of the bracelets, and students sorted themselves based on the color of their bracelet. They then got to keep the bracelet as a memento of the day, reminding them to keep mixing it up.
- Another school sorted students using bingo daubers. Volunteers put a colored dot on students’ hands and they sat at tables with matching colored balloons.
- Every school included conversation starters on the tables. Our HCR committee created these conversation starters for three grade level groups: K-2 (with picture prompts), 3-5 (including “would you rather” questions), and 6-8 (getting into questions that could lead to deeper, more meaningful conversations).
Superintendent, David Schauer supports our efforts. In fact, he accepted the challenge to make this year’s event a truly district-wide effort. Today he set up a tour schedule for the executive team, accompanying departments and other district offices to visit other departments so they could mix it up, too! For example, folks in transportation visited the print shop to mingle with them and learn about their responsibilities. He then set up a special dessert hour where they could continue their conversations with their colleagues from other areas. This not only upholds the spirit of Mix It Up Day, but also advances our district goal of working together as a team.
Our efforts won’t stop with today. We plan to create a web page on the district website where teachers, students, and even community members can go to find ways to continue the spirit of Mix It Up at Lunch Day. This is just one of many district-wide initiatives to promote tolerance and encourage acceptance in our schools. We are proud to be a district that chooses to appreciate our differences and find our commonalities. We are proud to be a Mix It Up district!
Dondi Caswell and Brenda Mulkey are educators and co-chairs of the Kyrene Education Association’s Human and Civil Rights Committee in Phoenix, Arizona.