Middle schoolers mix it up

Program teaches kids to conquer cliques and make new friends

Lunch table politics at schools around the country will be turned upside-down Nov. 14 as Mix It Up at Lunch Day sweeps cafeterias in the area and across the country. Sponsored by the Teaching Tolerance program at the Southern Poverty Law Center, the goal of Mix It Up is to break students out of their standard social circles and encourage them to overcome cliques.

According to a survey on www.tolerance.org, 70 percent of students reported that they see social boundaries most clearly drawn in the cafeteria. For schools such as Bryan Middle School in Elmhurst, statistics like that one provide ample reason to combat cliques with Mix It Up.

This year will be Bryan's third foray into this exercise in tolerance. Last year, teachers posted themselves at cafeteria entrances to hand out a sticker to each student. The stickers corresponded to tables around the cafeteria where the students were supposed to sit for the day.

Bryan counselor Kristin Mikicich says the biggest short-term advantage of Mix It Up is that it nudges kids to get to know other students in their class outside of their circle of friends. "[Students] can see that even if other kids look different or like different things, they have a lot in common with them that they didn't know before," she says.

Mix It Up boasts long-term benefits, too. "It's a good opportunity for them to get out of their comfort zone and meet other people, because that's how the real world is," Mikicich says. "They're not always going to know everyone in their workplace."

Despite some initial nervousness, Mikicich says that the response from the students last year was overwhelmingly positive. And it works. In the wake of 2005 Mix It Up at Lunch Day, 91 percent of organizers reported that the event "increased students' awareness about social boundaries" and just under 80 percent said it "helped students make new friends."

For more information on Mix It Up at Lunch Day and ideas on how to kick-start the program at a new school, visit www.tolerance.org/teens.

Katie Holland


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