Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Derby Ridge Elementary School found themselves in new seats next to new people during lunch Wednesday.
“It was a quieter cafeteria time than usual,” said Kim Freese, an art teacher and coordinator of the change of pace.
Derby Ridge students were among the hundreds of thousands of students, both elementary and high school, who participated in a national effort called the Mix It Up at Lunch Day.
The event, created by Tolerance.org and Teaching Tolerance, is designed to address statistics found in a 2002 Mix It Up survey. The survey showed that a majority of students said schools were “quick to put people into categories”; that 40 percent of students admitted they had rejected someone from another group; and that one-third of students said it’s hard to become friends with people in different groups.
Though the majority of schools participated in the official Mix It Up Day on Tuesday, Derby Ridge held the event over until Wednesday because several teachers who wanted to participate had been away on Tuesday.
Tyler Lewis, a fifth-grader, explained the relative quietness of the cafeteria: “It’s hard to talk to girls.”
Crandon Cook, another fifth-grader, elaborated: “Boys got their own language, and girls got their own.”
Despite the inevitable challenges of meeting new people — especially those of the opposite sex — several students learned a few new things about their new lunchmates.
Crandon’s lunch table learned where his nickname, “French Toast,” came from: a brand label on the inside of his coat.
John Norton, a third-grader, told his table that he never uses slang and he’s usually very calm. “I never get hyper when I eat too much sugar,” he said.
Another student shared that she had had “lots of dads,” and another said her grandfather helped build Columbia’s new public library.
Tess M. Sims, following her teacher’s suggestion, asked the name of one of her table companions. Morgan, dressed in purple, answered all of Tess’ questions about favorite colors — purple; favorite sports — all of them; favorite books — the Harry Potter series; and favorite movies — “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.” Tess even asked Morgan to play at recess, but Morgan had kickball commitments and Tess preferred the swings.
While a few students looked longingly at their friends at other tables, many students recognized the positive aspects of this chance to meet new people.
John said the activity helped students meet other children at the school that might be in their future classes. “This way they won’t be as scared about starting a new class next year and not knowing anybody,” he said. John also thought the activity could really help transfer students who might not know any other children at all.
Alex Nail, a fifth-grader, also appreciated the opportunity to talk to students he had not previously had a chance to get to know. “Your friends always want you to play with them, so you don’t have time to play with other people,” he said.
Overall, Freese was satisfied with the Mix It Up lunch.
“The kids were asking whether they could do it again,” she said.