School lunch news: “Mix It Up at Lunch Day”

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?

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4 Responses to School lunch news: “Mix It Up at Lunch Day”

  1. Katie November 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    We did this at our junior high a few weeks ago. They had a whole week of mix it up activities where the kids got to dress up with different themed outfits, earn prizes, and even attend an assembly with a few players and cheerleaders from the St. Louis Rams. The kids loved it. The themes were great too. The kids all had things to write in their daily journals about the things they did and learned. It was great for in the classroom and outside of it. I hope that the kids from gen ed classes got a chance to better understand the kids in our special ed room.

  2. Julia November 11, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    This is interesting and intriguiing, and I would love to use this approach at PTO-sponsored school social events. On the adults. We have an annual family potluck dinner every year that celebrates our school’s diversity and we get to sample some great eats from a wide variety of ethnicities, but you should see the dining tables. The same groups that normally socialize with each other stay in their groups, and little effort is made to really meet or mix it up with people you don’t already know. Which is kind of a shame. Even grownups have to be encouraged to get outside their comfort zone.

  3. Ellysa D November 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    We did this at my middle school, and I hated it. I don’t think it was so much about being separated from my friends- although I didn’t enjoy that- as it was about losing our “recess”. Due to our short (20 min) lunch period, we were lucky to be able to dash through the line, choke down what lunch we bought (mine generally consisted of a honey bun and bottle of water- things I didn’t have to wait in line for, and seemed safer than the cafeteria food because they came in packaging), and have 5 minutes out on the slab of pavement. We didn’t have playground balls or anything, just continued socializing in the fresh air. But on mix-it-up day, the activities took over that time outside. I was awkward and nervous to begin with, and stressed about those days for weeks in advance. I understand the concept, I just think it needs some fine-tuning.

  4. Joani November 12, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    While I understand the good intentions of this program, had it happened to me, I would have probably skipped school that day. As an extreme introvert, being in a small group of new people I don’t know, and then asked to eat with them (a very personal act) or do activities would have terrified me. I’m much better at dealing with situations like these now that I’m older, but even thinking on it now gives me a slight panic attack. Also, my friends were often not in my classes, so the only time I actually got to see them was during lunch, and I would have really resented having this time taken away.

    I feel like I sound very negative towards this program that has such great motives. I guess I just wanted to point out that sometimes people sit with certain people and not others because it makes them feel safe and comfortable. And do we really need to add more stress to young teens’ lives?

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