High school students break down some social barriers

For one day at least, American high school cliques mingled during lunch.

Students across the country purposely changed their seats in the school cafeteria last Thursday and dined with classmates they usually don't associate with.

It was part of the first annual "Mix It Up" day, a program designed to cross racial and other boundaries that separate students socially.

"Hopefully, a few new friendships will start and new kids will get to know they're not as different from each other as they think," says Kelvin Datcher, outreach coordinator of the the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group in Montgomery, Ala..

More than 2,500 schools in all 50 states signed on to participate.

Students at Highland High School in Salt Lake City pledged to meet at least one new person at lunch every day last week and sit at an entirely different table on Thursday, says student organizer Suzanne Wicklander.

Suzanne says she surprised one schoolmate she didn't know by introducing herself in the hallway, but then it was easy for the two to get into a conversation.

Students say race or ethnicity aren't the only boundaries separating students. At Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, senior Cassie Morton says age is the main barrier. So students sat at tables on Thursday according to their month of birth.

At Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas, student organizer Tori Soto says clothing styles and family income can also divide classmates. Students entering the cafeteria on Thursday picked a piece of candy out of a bowl and sat at the table with others who selected the same candy.

Next year, Mr. Datcher says organizers hope to expand "Mix It Up" day beyond schools to corporate cafeterias and other settings.

"It all starts with respecting one another," Tori says. "If that [happened], we wouldn't have the kid who's always teased or people who feel like they don't belong anywhere."

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