BROOKSVILLE — During a recent lunchtime, the cafeteria and outdoor picnic tables at Powell Middle School had signs posted above them with quotes by famous personalities.
One was "You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist," by Indira Gandhi.
Another was Anne Frank's "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."
These same quotes were printed on little slips of colored paper and distributed to students as they entered the cafeteria. It was all part of Mix It Up Day, and students were encouraged to match their quotes to the ones hanging overhead and have lunch at those tables.
The idea was to break up regular groupings and have students sit with those whom they normally wouldn't. The lessons were tolerance and antibullying.
The event was organized by Microsociety coordinator Lisa Piesik and assistant principal Jamie Young. (The Microsociety is a miniature social system within the school that includes a bank, court system and businesses.) The students were prepared for the activity beforehand.
Prior to the lunch, the students made a "Wall of Tolerance." They were given colored paper and asked to remember something that had bothered them or to make a sign to inspire tolerance. They were posted in the cafeteria.
Here are some examples:
"Kids at bus stop called me the 'Jolly Green Giant.' That made me sad."
"Be good to people."
"In first grade I made fun of a girl and I used to call her names, but in fourth grade she made fun of me."
"I picked on a girl and then I found out her dad died."
The students filled out surveys. They were asked to name groups or cliques in the school and where they could be seen together. They were asked if they ever felt unwelcome by them or if they had ever seen them reject another student. They were also asked to admit if they had ever rejected a student or if they had ever stood up for one.
On the day of the mix-it-up, students who chose to participate found ice-breaking questions taped to the tables. It was suggested that they introduce themselves and tell the new lunch companions their favorite music, activities, hobbies and/or sports. Other topics included pets, siblings, state or even country of birth and, "If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?"
Piesik said there is a state mandate for schools to have antibullying programs. She had done this particular program a few years ago and decided to repeat it. The school's 1,000-plus students were involved with the surveys and discussions, although not all chose to participate in the mix-it-up lunch.
"Our students played a big role in this," Piesik said. "It was advertised on the morning program, and students helped come up with discussion questions."
Eighth-grade president Kori Butler, 14, who was class president all her middle school years, said the event would help students explore other people and increase their social skills.
She acknowledged she had been teased in elementary school because of her small size. She said it is not an issue now and her diminutive stature helps her get tossed around as a cheerleader.
"I actually like being short," she said.
At one table in the cafeteria, three students who usually eat together were joined by four new ones. All were eighth-graders.
Desiree Southall, 13, was one of the new ones.
"I learned that we all have something in common," she said. "We bonded. I think I want to stay here from now on. I like being surrounded by people who are nice."
Jessica Delmoral, 15, also a newcomer, said she "wanted to meet people she didn't know and say, 'Hi.' "
Kathy Hoak, 13, was one of the group that regularly eats together. She used the questions supplied on the table to get to know the others and found they had a lot in common.
"When we all came and sat together," she said, "we all clicked."
Kathy's friend, Haley Griffin, 13, said, "I liked the fact that you meet different people and see the differences between you, but you meet other friends than the ones you usually hang with."
Newcomer Amanda Sanzone, 13, said, "I like that they accepted us in their group."