ARTICLE

Building a Community of Upstanders

A Mix Model School coordinator explains why her school participates in Mix It Up at Lunch Day and how she extended it beyond one day with an in-depth social experiment.

Editor’s note: Susan Gelber Cannon is a teacher and Mix It Up coordinator at The Episcopal Academy—a three-time Mix Model School. She originally published a post about why and how her school mixes it up on her blog, Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future. TT is sharing her post as a series of three blogs. (Reposted with permission.)

Increasingly, divisions in our society seem insurmountable. Racism continues to take its toll. How can we overcome isms and hatred? How can we teach our children to trust and love people whether they are the same or different from themselves? We mourn and grieve each of our losses, but—as the Curtis Mayfield song says—“We must keep on keepin’ on.” Working with school students and teachers is the path I take to keep on building a peaceful, equitable, diverse and just future. In this endeavor, one of the most powerful tools I use is the full-day social experiment called Mix It Up Day.

 

Mix It Up Day at Episcopal Academy

Teaching Tolerance initiated Mix It Up at Lunch Day in 2002. The idea was that a simple act of sitting with new people at lunch would help students break social barriers and appreciate and celebrate differences and similarities among the people in their school communities. 

At The Episcopal Academy, a pre-K-12 independent school outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, our Middle School Student Council took the original concept further and deeper, beginning in 2008-09. While many schools participate in mixing it up with special seating and activities to promote positive social interactions during one lunch period, our Mix It Up Day is a full-day social experiment involving 275 students and over 50 faculty and staff. This full day in early spring follows months of lead-up activities, including a diversity/inclusion-themed slogan contest, activities interpreting a dramatic production’s themes, advisory surveys and discussions about school climate, and guest speakers on anti-bias, anti-bullying and diversity-related topics. Our goal throughout is to make our school a safe, welcoming and inclusive one for each member of our community.

Over seven years, student and faculty survey results have helped us evaluate and improve the effectiveness of the day. Overall, students have rated the day as important in teaching about diversity and building an inclusive community. Responding to post-Mix-It-Up-Day surveys, typically, 66 percent of students state they have learned something about diversity during the daylong Mix It Up Day activities, with 64 percent agreeing that the day is a “powerful learning experience.” Generally 80-90 percent think the day is important and should be part of school life annually. Faculty responses have been positive as well, with 89 percent of faculty respondents agreeing that the day is a meaningful teaching tool and should be continued. 

Faculty and staff at other schools have asked for advice on how to strengthen, deepen, or change-up their participation in the day. This blog series will detail learning goals, planning, sample activities and reflections from Episcopal Academy Middle School, recognized by Teaching Tolerance as a three-time Mix It Up Model School.

Stay tuned for the next blog in the series, “Building a Community of Upstanders With the ABF,” scheduled to post on August 10!

Cannon teaches English, history, Model UN and debate at The Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.