Recently I was walking through the hallway at work and I heard one of my favorite teachers talking to her students. She was explaining to them what “bullying” is. I missed most of what she had been discussing with them as they were coming back from the bathroom, but I did hear the last thing she said,
“It’s called bullying now, but you know what they call it when you are adults? Harassment.”
Simple. Profound. I have since talked with her to say that her words resonated deeply with me (and hopefully with her students).
Bullying happens at school in all settings, but lunch can be one of the places where children get picked on and bullied, especially when there isn’t adequate adult supervision.
People ask me what was school lunch like for me as a kid and honestly I can’t remember the food very well. What I do remember is facing a cafeteria and not knowing where I would be able to sit and eat. My family moved around a lot, including moving across the country twice in middle school. You can imagine the stress and anxiety lunch time brought into my life.
That’s why when I read this story about “Mix It Up at Lunch Day” (Highland Park, IL), I was so encouraged. Lunch is so much more than just the food. Here’s an excerpt:
When would a group of middle school students avoid their friends at lunch and instead sit with people they barely know? When it’s Mix It Up Day, which took place November 3 for the second year in a row at Edgewood Middle School. The day is part of a national event that was started a decade ago by the nonprofit organization Teaching Tolerance, borne out of studies that show that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. And as Edgewood social workers Brittany Coffin and Meghan Erwin reminded the students at lunch, not only is it about breaking down social barriers, but “it can be fun to get to know new people and make new friends.”
As students entered the cafeteria, they were randomly handed different-colored bracelets, representing their assigned table. Each table had one Edgewood teacher, all of whom volunteered to eat with students that day, along with a student leader who facilitated activities designed to get the students talking to each other. One favorite game was Would You Rather, where students were presented with two undesirable options and asked which they would choose. At one table, students were unanimous that if forced to choose between dying their hair green for a year or not washing it for a year, green was the way to go. But they had a decidedly split opinion on whether they would rather have lots of homework on weekdays and none on weekends, or lots on weekends with not much during the week.
For more information about getting Mix It Up at Lunch Day started at your school, check out Teaching Tolerance’s Mix It Up page with free downloadable resources, including this planning checklist. Could this work at your school?