By Jan Bennett
The “Mix it Up” Program for U.S. Schools
This week’s School Spotlight is highlighting the “Mix It Up” program schools throughout the U.S. have been implementing into their students’ lunchtime. As a result, participating schools have been enjoying great success in breaking down barriers that often stem from misunderstandings in cultural diversities.
The “Mix it Up” program is the brain child of Teaching Tolerance: A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that “is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.” And with the “Mix It Up at Lunch” program, they are certainly living up to their modus operandi. With just a few years in operation, this program has quickly grown to include 2,420 schools that are utilizing its service. In this number, 50 different schools serve as “Mix It Up Model Schools.”
Just what is Mix It Up at Lunch Day?
According to Teaching Tolerance’s Website, this is “A national campaign launched by Teaching Tolerance a decade ago, Mix It Up at Lunch Day encourages students to identify, question and cross social boundaries.
In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – October 18 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch.”
This program has changed hearts, minds and attitudes of many students in our nation’s schools, building tolerance, breaking barriers and bridging gaps. One such school experienced great success when it implemented the program in 2009. Through Mix It Up, students at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan, were happy when they were included in the project.
One hundred and fifty ninth-grade students where chosen and then divided into three lunch periods (50 students per lunch period). They were hand-picked from among the following subgroups: blacks, whites, Lebanese, Yemenis, Iraqis, jocks, band members, cheerleaders as well as students in special education and bilingual classes.
Each table was overseen by two older team leaders to help get things started. The results: “Many of them walked away with new friends. Also, Mix It Up brought down walls of race and ethnicity. At the same time, it built new relationships among the team leaders and the staff members who supported the event.”
The Mix It Up Website “offers an array of free online resources designed to help school groups and classroom teachers explore the issue of social boundaries. These activities can be used as ice-breakers during the planning process, to get the group geared up for the event; or they can be used as classroom activities by teacher allies seeking to support the Mix It Up effort.”
The Teaching Tolerance organization supplies the tools and know-how for schools to involve their students in Mix It Up. The program is offered absolutely free for any school in America, and only has six simple steps to get started mixing it up at lunch.
“Mix It Up Model Schools embrace respect and inclusiveness as core values—they ‘mix it up’ all year long. These schools have done an exemplary job of organizing, publicizing and implementing Mix It Up at Lunch Day. By sharing their recipes for success, Model Schools are beacons for other schools striving for inclusiveness.” To learn more about the criteria schools need to meet to become one of the 2011/2012 Mix It Up Model Schools, click here. Do you know a school that has the potential to become a “Mix It Up Model School?” It’s not too late. Teaching Tolerance is accepting application for schools wishing to become a Model School until February 1, 2012.
Teaching tolerance and appreciation in cultural diversity is one of the most important and fundamental things that we can do for our children. Through doing this, our youth are instilled with the ability to understand, accept, and yes, even appreciate the many differences filling our world. This is a part of creating the “better tomorrow” that is so often heard and yearned for by community. If you know of a school participating in a similar program, we would love to hear how it has affected students, staff and your community. So, please, write us and let us know. We are all ears.