Editor’s Note: Today is national Mix It Up at Lunch Day. This is one of several stories about how schools across the country used Mix to shake up cliques and erase social boundaries.
The sixth-graders at Roxboro Middle School tumbled through the doors and into the lunchroom, looking around for places at the tables. The security officer didn’t need a bullhorn; his voice carried.
“Make sure you get your lunch before you sit down,” he said. “Make sure to get your lunch.” With trays in hand, the youngsters headed for their seats. Instead of sitting next to old friends, they went to the table for their birth month.
And that’s how Jeida Mills and Benjamin Richardson came to sit together. Once the youngsters were settled, they answered questions designed to break the ice: What’s your favorite song? What is the one thing you couldn’t give up? What’s your favorite candy?
The pair said they kind of knew each other from choir class, but had never really talked. On “Mix It Up at Lunch Day,” they discovered one trait they shared: Christmas is their favorite holiday. By the end of lunch–just 21 minutes–they were friends.
“He’s pretty nice,” Jeida said.
And the pair gave thumbs up to Mix It Up at Lunch Day.
“It’s cool because it’s a chance to meet new people,” Jeida said.
“It’s a good thing,” Benjamin said. “We made new friends and learned about each other.”
Roxboro Middle School, which is just outside of Cleveland, has 522 students in grades 6-8. All of them had a chance to participate in Mix It Up, said school principal Patrick McNichols.
This year was the first time Roxboro had taken part in Mix It Up since McNichols arrived a year ago. The event falls right in line with the school’s four principles for student behavior: being tolerant, teachable, talented and tenacious.
“You have to teach what you expect in order to get it,” McNichols said. “We want students to understand what it means to be a member of the community.”
The emphasis is an antidote to a “kid culture” that McNichols believes can veer toward inappropriate speech and behavior. The problem, though, is that kids are imitating what they see and hear.
“In their music and on television, it’s not always the most positive message,” he said. “They’ve got to think that this is the way they should act at all times. It’s about being a good citizen.”
As McNichols spoke, laughter and chatter filled the room.
“What’s your favorite candy? Reese’s, Crunch Bars, Snickers!"
Meanwhile the lunch period was winding down.
“Sixth graders, you have five minutes—that’s five minutes,” the security guard warned.
Sara Tatnall went into action. She was born in August, but she was hovering over the January table. The sixth-grader barely allowed students to swallow pizza before she fired off her questions.
“What’s your favorite holiday?”
The answers came back in a flash: “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!”
Sixth-grade teacher Kim Kolecki said she was surprised and pleased with the students’ enthusiasm. They were already asking if Mix It Up would be repeated next year. And they were already making suggestions about improvements.
Tops on the list: Forget lunch period. Do Mix It Up in class, when there’s more time to talk.
Scruggs is a freelance writer in South Euclid, Ohio.