Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mix It Up Day encourages Wiregrass students to experience diversity

Mitchell Phelps, center, visited these girls Thursday during Wiregrass Ranch High’s “Mix It Up Day,” as students lunched with someone unfamiliar. The girls are Megan Javier, left, Lindsey Clayton, Clarissa Monaco and Dalia Abouelenin.

LANCE ARAM ROTHSTEIN | Times

Mitchell Phelps, center, visited these girls Thursday during Wiregrass Ranch High’s “Mix It Up Day,” as students lunched with someone unfamiliar. The girls are Megan Javier, left, Lindsey Clayton, Clarissa Monaco and Dalia Abouelenin.

WESLEY CHAPEL — Guidance counselor Meredith Jones stood just outside the Wiregrass Ranch High cafeteria Thursday morning, handing out brightly colored table passes to each student who came in for lunch.

"Mix it up!" Jones told the puzzled looking teens.

Rather than sit at their usual tables with their usual groups, the kids were encouraged to step outside their comfort zone and meet someone new.

It's part of a national effort sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project.

"We get a lot of new kids and a lot of new faces," principal Ray Bonti said of his growing suburban school. "It's important for kids to experience diversity."

With nearly 1,800 students, Wiregrass Ranch is Pasco's third-largest high school. Slightly more than 46 percent of the students are not white, making the school also Pasco's most racially diverse.

That does not stop the teens from separating themselves in that most cliquish of places, the school cafeteria, where guidance department chairman Glenn Cable said he can draw a map of where to find the different groups each lunch period.

But Thursday, many gamely went along with the "getting to know you" initiative.

Senior Kalen Wright met fellow seniors Elyse Houston and Kayshla Ayala for the first time at the Mix It Up lunch.

"This is a big school," Elyse said.

She admitted to being slightly nervous about approaching strangers. That's why she brought Kayshla along.

"But they seem like really interesting people, so it will be nice to get to know them," she said.

Kalen agreed.

"I think it's actually quite cool," he said of the event. "You get to meet different personalities at the school and make new friends."

Clarissa Monaco, an exchange student from Brazil, found the activity particularly helpful. She enjoyed talking with different people and also asking them questions as part of the Mix It Up bingo game. The students were to try to find others who shared their interests using a bingo card as a guide.

Those who completed a line first won small prizes.

"I usually sit with a group of people that I met in acting class," she said. "At first it was really difficult to make friends. This is really great. I like it."

Not everyone shared in the enthusiasm.

"This is our free time, and we want to be with our friends," said sophomore Heather Ford, who sat with the same girls she's eaten lunch with for two years.

Freshman Brelyn Davis attempted to get her bingo card filled out by visiting other tables, but retreated to her group after getting nowhere.

"Most people are not into Unity Day. They want to sit with their friends and they don't really care about the game," said Brelyn, a purple-haired girl with Halloween-themed braces (orange and black bands) who explained she aims to be different.

Her friend, Robbie Carr, loaded down with chains and bracelets, didn't even try, saying he's been called enough names by people who don't know him.

"It's a good concept, but you need to have it be more monitored or in a smaller group," Robbie, also a freshman, said.

Between bites of spaghetti, salads and pizza, many students said they feel like Wiregrass Ranch already mixes it up plenty without much encouragement.

"People here have more respect for each other" than at other schools, said junior Josie McCrary, who attended a different high school last year.

Freshman Amber Grace, who shared lunch with Josie, shared that view.

"It's like seniors wouldn't be caught dead with the freshmen," she said. "But here, everybody hangs with everybody. It's cool."

As students streamed out to their next classes after lunch, one boy shouted out, "Nice meeting you guys!" A girl remarked to her friends, "We met a whole bunch of new people."

Listening in, the counselors smiled at one another and expressed pleasure at a job well done, if only for a day.

Several other Pasco middle and high schools planned to participate in Mix It Up, though many did not have their activities on Thursday. They included River Ridge Middle, Pine View Middle, Gulf High and Wesley Chapel High.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Mix It Up Day encourages Wiregrass students to experience diversity 11/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2008 8:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. PolitiFact: Fact-checking Samantha Bee on Florida felonies

    State Roundup

    Comedian Samantha Bee traveled to Florida, where she says "retirees and democracy go to die," to shed light on how the state makes it difficult for felons to regain the right to vote.

    Samantha Bee hosts Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. Bee portrayed some of Florida’s felonies as not so serious on her show.
  2. For some, Memorial Day comes around more than just once a year

    Military

    ST. PETERSBURG — It is shortly before nine on a Friday morning, and the heat is already approaching unbearable levels at Bay Pines National Cemetery.

    Iles carefully digs up the St. Augustine grass so that it will continue to grow when it is placed back on the gravesite. He tries not to disturb the root base.
  3. State budget uncertainty has school districts 'very concerned'

    K12

    While waiting for Gov. Rick Scott to approve or veto the Legislature's education budget, the people in charge of school district checkbooks are trying hard to find a bottom line.

    It has not been easy.

    The unsettled nature of Florida’s education budget has left school districts with questions about how they will make ends meet next year. [iStockphoto.com]
  4. Ernest Hooper: Removing Confederate symbols doesn't eliminate persistent mindset

    Human Interest

    The debate has begun about removing a Confederate statue from outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse, and its removal is long overdue.

    Robert E. Lee Elementary, 305 E. Columbus Drive in Tampa, originally opened its doors in the early 1910s as the Michigan Avenue Grammar School. [Times file]
  5. What you need to know for Monday, May 29

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    In the weeks before Memorial Day, cemetery caretaker Gary Iles and the staff at Bay Pines National Cemetery are busy preparing the sprawling property for the annual ceremony honoring the fallen. Iles, an Army veteran who started out as a volunteer at Bay Pines, says working at the cemetery is a way for him to continue serving those who died for their country. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]