"All right, let's mix it up," chanted 17-year-old CJ on his way to the cafeteria at Booker T. Washington Magnet High School (BTW) in Montgomery, Ala.
The energetic senior smiled as he strutted past two teachers who were handing out stickers in honor of the first national Mix It Up at Lunch Day.
Once inside, CJ found the cafeteria more like musical chairs than lunch, as he joined classmates hopping from table to table — meeting, greeting and eating. That's exactly what the day was supposed to be.
In observance of Mix It Up at Lunch Day last fall, students like CJ in more than 3,000 schools accepted the challenge to bridge social barriers by sitting somewhere new, with someone new, in their cafeterias.
"This is awesome," said 17-year-old Brittany, who dubbed herself the "Mix It Up Poster Child" for BTW. "I've been telling everyone in all of my classes about the Day for weeks now. I'm just so glad to see this many people participating."
In addition to the increased noise level, Brittany said the cafeteria took on a new look on Mix Day.
"Any other day, people would be sitting with other people who look exactly like them," she said. "I hope today will be the first step in the right direction. A chance for people to see things they have in common with people they might not normally talk to or sit with."
Aryne, a junior who mixed it up by sitting with classmates sharing her birth month, admitted some people were at first reluctant.
"It's all about who your friends are" she said matter of factly. "People like to sit with people they know."
On most days, Aryne says the segregation is pretty easy to see.
"Race is the most obvious, of course," she said. "But you can see it by grade and other things, too. Seniors sit with the seniors; football players sit with football players."
'Let's go mix it up'
Just a few miles from BTW, students at Loveless Academic Magnet Program (LAMP), a school nationally recognized for its stringent college preparatory curriculum, also were mixing it up.
As students prepared to break for the first lunch period, LAMP Principal Veverly Arrington announced over the intercom that faculty and students were to sit at the tables divided by birth month.
"We want every student participating," Arrington announced. "Now, let's go mix it up."
Within minutes, 200 students filed into the lunchroom, scrambling to find the table with the month of their birthdays.
Kim, a 17-year-old junior, said LAMP students already mix it up most days.
"Our school is pretty different than most, I guess. There is not that much segregation here," she said. "We're all here for the same purpose — to learn — and we really do get to know each other because we all have to study so hard together."
Arrington agreed that LAMP students are probably less divided by the social boundaries that exist at other schools. Still, she welcomed Mix It Up.
"Even though there are few divisions here, as human beings, we are all creatures of habit. We like to sit in the same pew at church and sit at the same table at lunch," she said. "It's good to break out of that comfort zone when you can."
Jerry, a 16-year-old sophomore, said he looks forward to breaking out of his comfort zone more often.
"This is cool. Sitting with the same people everyday gets boring. It's nice to move around some and make new friends," he said. "I think we should do it every month."