SPRING HILL — Powell Middle School students were recently handed bagged lunches with colored stickers on them.
The stickers were coordinated with tables in the school courtyard, and students were directed to tables with matching colors.
It was Mix-It-Up Day.
"We're hoping that this will get them to sit somewhere with students they normally don't," said the event's coordinator, eighth-grade American history teacher Kathy Marcucci.
Music brightened the atmosphere, even as rain threatened. Some students got up to dance.
"They're singing a little bit. They're having a good time," Marcucci said.
Mix-It-Up Day is a tolerance-teaching program sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center (teachingtolerance.org). The goal is to help students be more inclusive and tolerant and to draw in newer or shyer students, Marcucci explained.
The tables had papers taped to them with ice-breaker questions. Some were simple enough, like "Where were you born?" and What is your favorite hobby?" A couple of others went a little deeper: "Would you rather end hunger or hatred? Why?" and "Have you ever been bullied?"
Jalen McFarlane and Jamison Carnegie are football-playing 13-year-old eighth-graders who sat with new students that morning.
"To me, Mix-It-Up Day was fun," Jalen said. "You get to meet new people and just have fun and dance around."
Jalen met a girl named Renee.
"She's nice," he said. "She could be real fun."
Jamison appreciated the opportunity to interact with other kids. He met a girl named Sophie.
"When we got there," he said, "she was quiet, but when we talked to her she opened up and enjoyed sitting with us for lunch."
He said he would say "Hi" to her now if he sees her around school.
That's the kind of response for which Marcucci was looking.
"Even if only a few kids get pulled in by this," she said, "it's well worth doing."