Nearly 3,000 schools expected to participate today in Mix It Up at Lunch Day

Across the nation today, students at nearly 3,000 schools will have an opportunity to meet someone new by participating in Teaching Tolerance’s 11th annual national Mix It Up at Lunch Day.

Students are simply asked to sit with someone new at lunch. It’s a simple task, but one that can be a tall order for students to do on their own – particularly in the cafeteria, where a school’s cliques are most obvious.

“When people step out of their cliques and get to know someone, they realize just how much they have in common,” said Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello. “Mix It Up is a positive step that can help create schools where students see each other as individuals and not just members of a separate group.”

The SPLC-sponsored event can help break down the barriers between various groups and help build inclusive, welcoming schools. Teaching Tolerance offers an array of free online resources to help school groups and teachers explore the issue of social boundaries and plan their activities. Each school sets its own agenda and chooses its own theme for Mix It Up. Many schools plan activities for the entire day.

Hurricane Sandy will likely prevent many schools on the East Coast from observing the event today.

“Our thoughts are with the residents of the East Coast dealing with this natural disaster,” Costello said. “Once school is back in session, schools shouldn’t feel they have to wait until next year to participate. They can Mix It Up any day.”

Many schools use the event to kick off a yearlong exploration of social divisions. Breaking down social barriers at school also can help reduce bullying, an issue that has received national attention following a string of bullying-related suicides in recent years.

At Grafton Middle School in Grafton, Mass., the school’s Mix It Up event last year may have helped end the bullying of one student. The school reported that a student who had picked on a special needs student got to know that child during the Mix It Up event.

“After they sat next to each other at Mix It Up At Lunch Day, the bully learned who the other student really was, and they became friends,” the school reported to Teaching Tolerance. “The boy who used to be a bully now stands up for the boy he used to pick on.”

Students at other schools incorporated last year’s event into activities that encouraged random acts of kindness, no name-calling and pledges to respect fellow students. One elementary school even reported that out of the school’s 850 students, not one student was sent to the office for discipline that day.