Teaching Tolerance, an arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has named the Wm. S. Hart Union High School District a Model School District, the only district in the nation to achieve the honor this year. The Hart District’s Mix It Up Day activities and photos are featured on the organization’s Web site at http://www.tolerance.org/mix-it-up/model-schools.
Mix It Up Day has been set aside as a single day in November when schools host activities designed to break students out of their normal group of friends at lunch time. Hart District schools often make the observance a multi-day and even a week-long experience with such diverse activities as scavenger hunts, a parade of flags, line dancing and breaking down a wall of hurtful experiences.
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The Hart District has been participating in Mix It Up Day since 2005, but in 2009 achieved its goal of an activity in every district school. That landed the district the title of Model School District and a place on the Teaching Tolerance Web site.
“The district programs are featured on the Tolerance.org Web site in the hope that other schools and districts will learn from the local success and work to create inclusive school communities through Mix It Up,” commented Greg Lee, the district’s director of human resources and equity. He noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center is one of the leading civil rights advocacy organizations in America today.
Rather than merely suggesting the event to individual schools, Lee set the expectation to have every school in the district participate, preferably on the same day, to put a major, community-wide emphasis on breaking down social barriers. In most Hart District schools, the student government leaders organize the activities, although some schools have culturally-themed clubs that take on the responsibility for Mix It Up.
Lee noted that Mix It Up Day activities are more difficult at Hart District schools, which do not have cafeterias in which students gather at the same tables every day. “Our students eat outside, and our activities have to do more than just get kids to switch chairs at a table,” Lee explained. “We have to get them to move across whole campuses, from where each group has established a haven, and get them to risk coming into common spaces. It now seems cool to participate.”
He used the conga line as an example of a popular activity at campuses where there are multiple elevations, with stairs and hills to bridge. “The students endeavor to snake the conga line across the entire length of the school,” he explained. “Along the way, the line travels through areas staked out by different social groups, and those kids get swept up in the line. It is really very stunning to watch.”
Last year, students at Sierra Vista Junior High School constructed a “brick wall” of campus issues. Over the course of multiple periods, they pledged to address each issue and, one by one, broke the wall down. At Bowman High School, students constructed a massive construction paper tree, inscribing core values on the trunk and personal affirmations on the leaves.
This year’s Mix It Up Day is scheduled for Nov. 9, and Hart District schools are already making plans for more unique barrier-breaking activities.