Tuesday, October 29, is Teaching Tolerance’s annual Mix It Up at Lunch Day! Mix It Up at Lunch Day is an event for challenging social boundaries and interacting with different peer groups. It involves encouraging students to sit with a different peer group than they normally sit with at lunch. You’ll find a wealth of information and ideas for hosting a Mix It Up at Lunch event for K–12 and beyond at the Teaching Tolerance website.
I will be hosting a Mix It Up at Lunch event for the first time this year. I serve as a school counselor at a middle school with students in grades 6–8. Here are some tips and information for planning and implementing a Mix It Up at Lunch event at your school.
Know Your Population and Potential Pitfalls
Knowing what hurdles you may have to overcome will help you plan for a successful event. The community I work in is close-knit. Many of the students I work with have known each other since elementary school. Even though these students know each other, they may not know each other on a deeper level—and they might not have much experience interacting or working with students outside their immediate group of friends. Encouraging students to step outside their comfort zone—even for a 30-minute lunch period—can be a challenge. When I first mentioned Mix It Up at Lunch Day to a group of 8th graders, there was much resistance about not getting to sit with their friends for a day in the lunchroom.
Fortunately, having read materials on the Teaching Tolerance website, I was prepared with practical ways to help students understand the importance of getting out of their comfort zone to challenge intolerance and social boundaries. Be prepared to counter the resistance by having a canned statement ready about why the event is important, and don’t get defensive about the event. This will help you educate students about its meaning and significance.
Advertise the Event
Spread the word about Mix It Up at Lunch Day weeks ahead of time so students and staff at your school are aware of the upcoming event. Staff can lead important discussions about breaking down social boundaries. I am planning to have students talk about the event on their morning announcement show. I will also display flyers and create bulletin boards to advertise Mix It Up. If you have time, organize a core group of students to help you plan and organize the event. They can also help spread the word to students and answer any questions students may have.
Plan a Theme
The Teaching Tolerance website has so many great ideas that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. October is bullying prevention month and my school’s character education theme for the month is empathy. I got a great idea from the Teaching Tolerance site about “Breaking Down the Walls of Intolerance.” The goal of my Mix It Up event will be to break down the walls of intolerance at my school. In the weeks leading up to Mix It Up, students will each create a brick that states some form of intolerance that they have experienced. I will then create a wall with their bricks as a visual display. On the back of the bricks I will put a color. On Mix It Up at Lunch Day, students will take a brick (not their own) from the display and sit at the table labeled for the color on the back of their brick. Students will discuss the different forms of intolerance and come up with proactive ways to create change and promote tolerance at our school. As they are leaving the cafeteria that day, they will add their positive ideas to a new bulletin board.
Use Teaching Tolerance Resources
There are tons of great ideas on the Teaching Tolerance website to get you started. Teaching Tolerance also has planning checklists and calendars, ideas for lessons to implement in classrooms before the event, posters to print and hang around your school, and information to help you deal with challenges you might face when hosting the event.
Do you do Mix It Up at Lunch at your school? What activities and themes have you used? What tips do you have for hosting a Mix It Up event?
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I have done Mix It Up for years and years, but realized today during our event that I should have gone through the steps with my students with ASD ahead of time. The randomness and unpredictability of the event threw several of my students off and while I was able to remedy the situations quickly, my students would have been more prepared and gotten more out of it had I been thinking ahead and considered their experience with the event.
I use starburst candies to sort kids to different colored tables and I ask the local high school to send students over (this year from National Honor Society) to keep conversations going at the tables. Today was a success!