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Mixing It Up to Make New Friends

During Mix It Up at Lunch Day, sponsored by Tolerance.org, students across the U.S. were urged to have lunch with students outside their immediate circle of friends. The event is designed to break down social boundaries at schools. Included: A description of how to hold a Mix It Up Day.

Taylor and Julie, sixth graders at Lyme-Old Lyme (Connecticut) Middle School, don't usually eat lunch together, but decided Mix It Up at Lunch Day was a good opportunity.

"She asked me [to have lunch with her]," said Taylor, pointing at Julie. "Yesterday, we started talking and I liked her a lot," added Julie.

Small epiphanies such as that are the sorts of things staff members at Tolerance.org, organizers of Mix It Up Day, which was November 16, hope for. To mark the day, students across the U.S. were urged to break their routines and eat lunch at different tables with different people

About 3 million students across the U.S. participated in the third annual Mix It Up Day this year, according to Tolerance.org. The purpose of the event is to encourage students to meet new people in different "categories" or cliques and get to know them better. The majority of socializing during the school day takes place in the cafeteria, and according to information from Tolerance.org, 70 percent of students said the cafeteria is where social boundaries are most clearly laid down.

Students at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School in Old Lyme, Connecticut, show off their red dots for participating in Mix It Up at Lunch Day. (Photo courtesy of Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School)

While one day does not reverse perceptions and habits, it is a start to breaking down barriers, said Pamela Russell, a French and Spanish teacher at Lyme-Old Lyme, who organized the event there.

"We're trying to encourage them not to stay in their own little cliques, that they should mix it up, and be nice to everyone," Russell told Education World. "I told them to find that friend from second grade they haven't talked to in years and sit with him or her. Just sit with someone new."

DEGREES OF PARTICIPATION

Russell read about Mix It Up Day in a magazine, and proposed the idea of participating to school faculty and administration. Teachers talked about the event in classes, and students also answered a survey about how they thought members of different groups interacted, and if they thought any groups of students were isolated.

Anthony Carrano, the school's assistant principal, noted that the amount of student-on-student bullying and harassment at the school is minimal, so switching tables should not lead to too much tension.

Enthusiasm for mixing it up peaked among sixth graders at Lyme-Old Lyme, and dropped with seventh graders and eighth graders. Some eighth graders even tried to get lunch detention to avoid Mix It Up Day, but lunch detention for that day was postponed, Russell said. Often the older students have solid cliques they are reluctant to break from, she said.

"It's not going to change anything," Frank, an eighth grader, said.

Students who sat with different people received a dot on their hands to show participation. The dotted ones also received an ice cream at the end of the day, but students did not know that ahead of time.

Some students who did participate said they appreciated the reasons for eating with different people. "We're doing this so we can make new friends," Ben, a sixth grader told Education World. He and his friend Sal were sitting at a mostly female table. "We don't usually sit with the girls."

"We introduced ourselves," Sal said. "We wanted to get to know them better."

"I think it's fun," added Raina, also sixth grader. "I can start new friendships with different people."

Jordan, a seventh grader, said he saw the activity as a means to "broaden my horizons." "You get to meet new people, and not judge them by how they look," he said. Rachael, another seventh grader, agreed. "If you meet one person in a group and think they are not nice, you might think the whole group is not nice, and that's wrong."

MORE MIXING

Some schools that participated in Mix It Up Day continued the practice throughout the year. After one Mix It Up Day for sixth through eighth graders at Sacred Heart School in Eureka, Missouri, staff members labeled tables in the lunchroom, and for several weeks, students picked a slip of paper with the name of a table as they came in. So they never knew with whom they would be eating lunch, according to Bee Tille from Sacred Heart.

Teachers at Lyme-Old Lyme plan to talk with students about Mix It Up Day, and may consider scheduling it one day a month, Russell said.

And even if all the older students did not participate, now the idea of interacting with different people is on the table, said principal Jeffrey Ostroff.

"Just having them buzzing about it is good," he said. "At least they know it is something we value. This brings it into their psyche."

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

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