Knocking down barriers, making new friends

Mar. 01, 2013 @ 06:14 PM

Social boundaries were crossed Friday at Aycock Elementary as students in first, second, third and fifth grades moved out of their comfort zones and connected with someone new over lunch.

Mix It Up at Lunch Day is a national campaign launched by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. Nationally, it is the 11th year of the program.

Erika Barnett, counselor at Aycock Elementary, organized the program after reading about it in Teaching Tolerance magazine, a publication that examines how teachers can recognize and dismantle policies and practices that favor incarceration over education.

By assigning students to various color coded tables, students in second and third grade were intermingled, getting a chance to meet students from different classes.

Barnett wrote different questions on popsicle sticks to be used as conversation starters for students.

“They learn the skill of getting to know someone,” said Jennifer Wade, a second-grade teacher. “The conversation starters are things they don’t normally think to ask.”

Wade sat at a table of students that included Cristebey Picaz, and Aracely Garcia, both third-grade students who were getting to know each other.

“I’m trying to make new friends,” Garcia said. “She’s from another class.”

Picaz asked Garcia what her favorite television show was, to which she replied, “Sponge Bob.”

“Now you ask me,” Picaz said.

Principal Laura Rigsbee walked through the cafeteria sitting at various tables and making conversation with students.

“This is a really good thing,” Rigsbee said. “It promotes really good positive relationships.

“This gets them out of their shell a little bit. They get somebody to look up to, and really enjoy it.”

Rigsbee praised Barnett for staying true to her profession, relentlessly working with students to provide advice and direction in their conduct.

“I’ve never seen a counselor like her,” Rigsbee said. “She goes all out and makes sure kids get that counseling piece.”

Surveys done by Teaching Tolerance indicated the cafeteria as a place where divisions are most clearly drawn, sparking the idea for Mix It Up at Lunch in 2002.

The simple act of sitting with someone new over lunch allowed students at Aycock to interact across group lines.

As students interact with those who are different from them, it is believed that biases and misperceptions can fall away.

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.