Students at Girard's Elementary and Intermediate Schools were encouraged to make new friends last month during National Mix It Up at Lunch Day.
Grades third through sixth have been preparing for several weeks for the day they would step out of their comfort zones and spend their lunch break making new friends.
''We've been preparing for this for about a month,'' said school counselor Pam Baker.
Sixth grade students assisted fourth graders during Mix It Up Day at Girard Elementary and Intermediate Schools when students from grades third to sixth made new friends during National Mix It Up day Oct. 30. Sidney Baker, 11, rear left, and Caitlin Kalten, 11, encouraged Victoria Owens, 9, and Kristina Smith, 10, to find out their common interests during the fourth grade lunch break at the school.
Baker has been visiting each of the classrooms participating in the event to engage students in interactive programs that would enable them to feel comfortable with others when the time comes to eat lunch with someone new.
''The programs are geared to get them (students) to know themselves a little better and to get them to feel comfortable with others.''
The programs included having the students interview their parents with questions, including asking parents if they had ever encountered bullies when they were in school. In the fourth grade classrooms, Baker said she engaged students in a personality test that enlisted the help of five stuffed animals, a turtle, a lion, a dolphin, a chameleon and a zebra.
''I told each student to walk to the animal that was most like themselves,'' she said. ''Afterward I talked to them about what each of these animals represent and asked them to explain why they felt they represented this particular animal.''
In another program, Baker said students were separated into groups while she placed apples in a bowl. Each group took one of the apples, gave it a name and personality traits.
''The object is to show the students that when you have an apple in a bowl, it is just an apple, but when you give your apple a name, you know your apple.''
When students entered the cafeteria with their lunches, rather than sit with their usual friends, they separated and sat at tables labeled with their birthday months. Many of the students already knew each other but others were introduced to new friends. Each student presented their new friend with a smiley-face cookie. Part of the preparation included bringing a note card to the cafeteria with questions they could ask their new friends to help break the ice and get the conversation started. Questions included what do you like to do; what do you do on the weekends; or what's your favorite color or school subject or do they have any pets?
National Mix It Up at Lunch first began in 2002 with the objective of helping children break down the walls in intolerance and to accept diversity among their peers. More than 12,000 schools across the United States participate in the program.
According to Baker, in 2008, more than 5.5 million students admitted they were bullied or admitted to bullying. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away according to the website, tolerance.org, which promotes National Mix It Up at Lunch Day.
''The preparation helps them to understand these differences,'' Baker said.