The girls at the last table in the middle school cafeteria weren’t talking. Two were recent immigrants from Somalia. Two were Hmong students in the ESL program. Two were white students who seemed shy.
The rest of the cafeteria was abuzz with seventh- and eighth- graders talking and laughing. Music from the DJ’s table pumped in the background. A group of kids and teachers broke into a spontaneous line dance at the front of the room.
But here, at the table in the back, six girls still sat silent, looking uncomfortable.
Until Brooke Burmeister, a seventh-grader, walked over and took charge.
“Do you know her?” Brooke asked each girl. “What do you have in common? C’mon, everybody—talk!”
Slowly, and at first almost too quietly for anyone to hear, the girls began introducing themselves. Ten minutes later, they were leaning across the table, laughing.
This was the scene last fall at Franklin Middle School in Green Bay, Wis., on national Mix It Up at Lunch Day, an annual event sponsored by Teaching Tolerance. Its goal? Create a safe, purposeful opportunity for students to break down the patterns of social self-segregation that too often plague our schools.
Since the program got started in 2002, Mix It Up at Lunch Day has produced scenes like this one in more than 20,000 schools across the country; it has also produced meaningful results. Research conducted in 2006 by Quality Education Data, Inc. (then part of Scholastic) found that the event helped students become more comfortable interacting with different kinds of people, helped them make new friends across group lines and bolstered school spirit and unity.
For the eighth annual Mix It Up at Lunch Day — to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009 — things are going to get, well, mixed up. Why change a model that has worked?
“Traditionally, Teaching Tolerance has served as the gatekeeper of Mix It Up at Lunch Day,” explains Lecia J. Brooks, director of Teaching Tolerance. “Only we knew which schools were participating, and we were the only ones talking to organizers across the country. By centralizing the program in our office, we were creating unnecessary boundaries between the schools, teachers and students who are undertaking this important work. They have far more to learn from each other than from us.”
So this year, Teaching Tolerance is launching a new era in the Mix It Up program, one that leverages the Web to bring people together. At www.mixitup.org, participants can:
• Register their Mix It Up at Lunch Day event on a new Mix It Up Map — and locate other participating schools in their area.
• Connect with Mix It Up’s Facebook group and swap ideas and resources with hundreds of organizers from across the country. Five educators — Deena Paradiso at Scarsdale Middle School in New York; Norma Harb and Michael Dicks from Fordson High School in Dearborn, Mich.; TaWanna Dickens from Seth Johnson Elementary School in Montgomery, Ala.; and Jaime Diego Chavez from Lawndale High School in Lawndale, Calif. — are serving as moderators, with help from their students.
The website will also offer free downloads of the material that participating schools have come to expect — posters, fliers, organizer guides and supportive lesson plans.
Mix It Up at Lunch Day 2009 also will mark the launch of a new opportunity to become a Mix It Up Model School (see the registration form, available online at www.mixitup.org). These schools will not only participate in the national event on Nov. 10, 2009, they’ll also demonstrate respect and inclusiveness as core values of their learning communities by completing at least two supportive projects of their own design during the 2009-2010 school year.
“Scarsdale Middle wants to support a safe and comfortable environment for all students,” said Deena Paradiso, one of the moderators of our Mix It Up Facebook group. “This initiative provides an opportunity to unify our empathy-building programs and projects throughout the school year, not just on the national day.”
The work undertaken by Mix It Up Model Schools will be highlighted on the Mix It Up Map, on the program’s Facebook page and in a future edition of Teaching Tolerance magazine.
“It’s another way we hope to facilitate an exchange of promising practices among educators and students concerned about the social climates of their schools,” Brooks said.
For educator Norma Harb, whose own daughter has been involved in Mix It Up, the program’s goal is a vital one. “To see the enthusiasm, the growth of tolerance and most importantly the ability to see the ‘invisible’ become ‘visible,’ that is a life lesson that cannot be ignored,” she said.