At first the idea sounded too simple to be anything worthwhile. Have students sit with someone new at lunch? How much effect could that really have? After years of perusing and using Teaching Tolerance’s other resources, I finally felt compelled to try to Mix It Up.
Staff was largely ambivalent about the proposal. A select few were enthused, and offered to help. One proposed that we do something of the same ilk once a month, to encourage respect and a sense of community, continue to discussion of social barriers, and use it as a platform for practicing both social and scholarly conversations.
So we posted some hype, told students about it at community meetings, and provided resources for teachers to spread the theme of inclusion into their classes. We considered using quotes from the civil rights movement as conversation pieces, but instead opted for more general get-to-know-you style questions. We printed them on colored paper centerpieces, and acquired brightly colored stickers to match. Some questions were: What neighborhood are you from? Describe your dream house. What are the most important qualities in a friend? What is your favorite meal? What is your favorite book or movie?
Yesterday was the big day. As kids took seats next to students they don’t often sit near, from different social groups, homerooms, and even different grades, I was pleasantly surprised to hear so much kind, focused chatter. The younger ones especially were empowered by the centerpiece questions, and proudly announced what they had learned about their tablemates.
We encountered more pushback in seventh and eighth grade, but I have faith we can remedy that for next time with more explicit discussion with those grades about the purpose of such an activity. Aside from getting to know someone outside of a “clique,” the experience of mingling with new folks is also crucial to preparing for going to a new school, to college, and feeling socially prepared for the first day of a job.
A handful of seventh-grade eyerolls not-withstanding, I agree with a third-grader’s assessment of the special day. As their tables were called to line up for recess, he exuberantly exclaimed, “Mix It Up is fun!”
Craven is a social and emotional interventionist in Louisiana.
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