Mixing It Up in Michigan

ix hundred seventh- and eighth-graders call Lansing, Michigan’s Waverly Middle School home.

In recent weeks, their schoolhouse has been decorated with a variety of handmade posters: "Mix It Up: Sit with Someone New," "Mix It Up: Break Down the Barriers," "Don’t Be a Bully: Mix It Up."

The posters were part of students’ efforts to promote the fifth annual Mix It Up at Lunch Day, a national event being observed today by more than four million students in10,000 schools. On the Day, students are encouraged to cross group lines and meet new people.

Why are these students so passionate about Mixing It Up?

"At the elementary school, we all talked with each other and were friends. Now, I have friends who belong to other cliques," said a student organizer named Chuckie. "I always catch flack from [my friends] when I talk to people in cliques they don’t like."

Did Mix It Up at Lunch Day work at Waverly?

As the lunch bell rang, students streamed into the cafeteria and slowly approached tables labeled by birth months.

Lisa, one of the organizers, said some students were iffy at first, but, when the planning team walked around the tables and helped get conversations started, students loosened up.

"It’s working out," she said. "This will … help improve the environment around here. I want other students to know that it’s OK to talk to other people."

Destin, a seventh grader seconded Lisa’s wish: "I hope Mix It Up will help students who tease unpopular people treat them better."

Mix It Up at Lunch Day is part of Waverly Middle School’s ongoing commitment to providing students with opportunities for leadership, social development and enriched learning experiences, and the event enjoyed the full support of principal Vincent Perkins.

"I thought this would be a great idea and would help improve the relations of students here at the school," he said. "We’ve had a few instances of bullying, and, if you know people from other groups, you are less likely to bully them. For the students to interact with each other is positive."

A student leader named Kristen reminded everyone, however: "It’s what happens after the Day that will be interesting."

Tafeni English is the Mix It Up director.  This essay originally appeared on Tolerance.org, the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama.